Even Kevin Durant was awed by Damian Lillard’s Game 5 performance in Denver.
Lillard had 55 points, including 12 3-pointers, and 10 assists in one of the best individual playoff performances ever. And yet the Trail Blazers lost 147-140 to the Nuggets in double overtime.
Now the series shifts to Portland for Game 6 on Thursday night with Denver up 3-2 and the Blazers on the brink of elimination.
The Suns can also clinch their series against the Lakers on Thursday night in Los Angeles. The winners of each of those first-round series will move on to meet in the Western Conference semifinals.
Lillard was in no mood to talk about his achievement following the grueling loss to Denver.
”Don’t matter, we lost the game. At this point, all that matters is we can’t lose another game in this series. We go out there and we play to win the game and we came up short,” he said. ”So, going back home it’s a must-win or else our season’s over. Then we’ve got to come back here and win on their floor again. That’s what it is.”
Lillard became the first player with 50 or more points, 10 or more assists and 10-plus 3-pointers in a game, regular season or playoffs. His 12 3s were the most ever scored in the postseason.
In the midst of it, Durant tweeted: ”This a spiritual experience.”
”It was the best playoff performance I’ve ever seen,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. ”He gave it his all.”
Denver coach Michael Malone called Lillard ”superhuman.”
Lillard can’t carry a team on the brink of elimination, however. Portland will need to see greater production from his teammates, and in particular the bench, which had just 22 points (compared to 48 for Denver’s bench).
He moved on quickly from the loss and his individual achievement, instead focusing on keeping the Blazers alive.
”I’m a grown man. We lost the game. It ain’t my first time losing. And if I don’t put it behind me, and hold onto it, it’s going to get in the way of what we need to do in the next one,” he said. ”That won’t be hard to do at all.”
NUGGETS AT TRAIL BLAZERS
Denver leads series 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT
-NEED TO KNOW: The Nuggets can secure a third straight appearance in the conference semifinals with a win. The stats seem to be in their favor: In a series tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 advances to the next round 83% of the time.
-KEEP AN EYE ON: Lillard, of course. He’s averaging 35.6 points and 9.6 assists through the first five games. Denver’s Nikola Jokic, an MVP finalist, is averaging 32.4 points and 11 rebounds.
-INJURY WATCH: It appears at this point that there are no changes, with Denver still missing Jamal Murray and Portland without Zach Collins, both out for the playoffs. But the Nuggets could have Will Barton back soon.
-PRESSURE IS ON: Portland big man Jusuf Nurkic needs to stay out of foul trouble. He has fouled out of three of the five playoff games. He left Tuesday night’s game with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter – and there’s no question he could have helped the Blazers in overtime.
SUNS AT LAKERS
Suns lead the series 3-2. Game 6, 10:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
-NEED TO KNOW: The defending champion Lakers are on the brink of elimination after the 115-85 rout by the Suns on Tuesday. It shows how quickly the playoffs can shift. The Lakers went up 2-1 in the series and pundits speculated the Suns were done.
-KEEP AN EYE ON: Suns guard Cam Payne has been a spark off the bench throughout the playoffs, averaging 13.6 points. 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He’s proven himself a more-than-capable backup to Chris Paul.
-INJURY WATCH: Anthony Davis sustained a groin injury in Game 4 and was out for the loss to the Suns. His availability for the Lakers is unclear. Paul took a shot to his injured right shoulder in the third quarter of Game 5 and did not return, although he said later he should be fine.
-PRESSURE IS ON: No brainer, LeBron James. If the Lakers are eliminated, it will be the first first-round exit of his career (he’s 14-0 in first rounds). But the four-time league MVP is known to pour it on during elimination games, averaging 33.7 points.
AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton and Pat Graham contributed to this report.
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