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Blazers’ Damian Lillard scores 24 in 4th quarter vs Suns, only to suffer last-second defeat

Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Blazers, Suns

The Portland Trail Blazers can still push the Los Angeles Lakers into the play-in round of the NBA postseason, but they just lost some margin for error, despite the best efforts of Damian Lillard. Dame Time was the right time for Portland on Thursday against the Phoenix Suns, but two missed free throws by Robert Covington and a controversial foul call on Norman Powell against Phoenix’s Devin Booker led to two Suns free throws with one second left. The Suns were in huge trouble but found a way to beat the Blazers, 118-117.

The Blazers wasted one of the great fourth-quarter performances of Lillard’s career. Dame dropped 24 points on the Suns in a blindingly bright display of typical brilliance. This bucket with under 40 seconds left gave Portland a three-point lead… but Covington’s missed free throws with five seconds left, followed by the phantom foul call on Powell, turned likely victory into a loss. 

The Blazers’ loss drops them to 41-30, with one game left in the regular season against the Denver Nuggets. The Los Angeles Lakers, at 40-30, can win out and — with a Blazer loss to the Nuggets — escape the play-in round. If the two teams tie, Portland wins the tiebreaker based on a 2-1 edge in the three-game regular-season series between the two teams.

The Lakers’ remaining games are against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday and the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, both on the road. The Blazers can either beat the Nuggets and settle the matter themselves, or they can leave this up to chance and cede leverage to the Lakers… much as Portland ceded control in the final seconds against the Suns.

The foul on Portland’s Norman Powell with one second left appeared to be a phantom foul, but the blown call would not have mattered at all if Covington had made his two foul shots moments earlier. The Blazers could have been up by three, but they instead led by only one, putting themselves at risk of losing on a bad call, which is precisely what happened. Portland put the game in the Suns’ — and the refs’ — hands.

This doesn’t make the call any better — it was a bad call — but the point is that the Blazers could have done something to control and improve their situation. They didn’t, and they got stung by bad luck at the worst possible time.

Damian Lillard’s 24-point fourth quarter was for naught.