Portland’s Damian Lillard poured in 51 points against a Philadelphia team missing injured stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, powering the Trail Blazers to a 124-121 NBA victory Sunday.
Lillard, taunted on social media after two key missed free throws in a Saturday loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, unleashed the 10th 50-point performance of his career and fifth of the season to pull Portland within a half-game of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference playoff fight.
“This was different because our season was on the line,” Lillard said. “We drop this one and we don’t control our destiny. I thought we answered the call down the stretch.”
Lillard hit 16-of-28 shot from the floor, 4-of-12 from 3-point range, and 15-of-16 from the free throw line and dished out a game-high seven assists.
“He just showed the determination he has showed throughout his career,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t think anybody was concerned about how he was going to come out tonight.”
Cameroon forward Embiid was removed from the game for medical evaluation with a left ankle injury only 5:42 into the first quarter after landing awkwardly near the bottom of a basket stanchion. He didn’t return and there was no immediate update on his status.
The setback came as the Sixers (42-28) coped with Wednesday’s loss of All-Star Aussie guard Simmons, who will undergo left knee surgery after suffering a temporary kneecap dislocation.
Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic sank two free throws with 10 seconds remaining for the final margin. Josh Richardson, who led the Sixers with 34 points, missed a 3-pointer and the rebound was batted around to the final buzzer.
“This was a tough win but we’ll take it,” Blazers star Carmelo Anthony said. “We just had to tough it out.”
All games are being played without spectators in a quarantine bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, after COVID-19 shut down the NBA season March 11.
The Blazers (33-39) and Memphis (33-38) are trying to hold off San Antonio (31-38) and Phoenix (31-39) for spots in next weekend’s play-in series for the last West playoff berth. Portland’s win eliminated New Orleans and Sacramento.
“Our fight and competitive spirit is where it needs to be,” Lillard said. “Eventually (attention to detail) will come, but we don’t have the luxury of having that time.”
Cameroon playmaker Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 26 points to spark Toronto over Memphis 108-99, clinching the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the defending champion Raptors (50-19).
Memphis, led by 25 points from Dillon Brooks, missed a chance to clinch a play-in series berth. The Grizzlies are 1-5 in bubble games.
Spurs hang tough
San Antonio, trying to reach the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season, pulled within a game of Memphis by beating New Orleans 122-113.
DeMar DeRozan scored 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to ignite the Spurs’ attack and subdue the stubborn Pelicans, who had 25 points in 27 minutes from star rookie Zion Williamson.
“They kept fighting. We had to step it up,” DeRozan said. “I knew, being a close game in the fourth quarter, I was going to have to be aggressive and I made my shots.”
Jayson Tatum scored 29 points, five in the final minute of regulation time and five more in overtime, to spark the Boston Celtics over Orlando 122-119.
Tatum’s 3-pointer with 37 seconds to play in the fourth and a basket with 4.2 seconds remaining in the fourth forced over-time at 112-112.
He then had half of the Celtics’ 10 points in the extra five minutes to secure victory for the 47-23 East third seeds as Orlando fell to 32-39.
Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert scored 27 points and Joe Harris added 25 to lead the Nets over the Los Angeles Clippers 129-120. The Clippers fell despite 39 points from Kawhi Leonard.
Reserve Austin Rivers scored 41 points and James Harden added 32 as the Houston Rockets ripped Sacramento 129-112.
Darius Bazley scored 23 points off the bench and Danilo Gallinari added 20 to power Oklahoma City over Washington 121-103.