Damian Lillard said the Portland Trail Blazers deserve their place in the Western Conference Play-In after leading his team to a thrilling victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
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Lillard sent Portland into the NBA's first Play-In series with 42 more points and a crucial steal, helping the Trail Blazers escape with a 134-133 win over the Nets on Thursday night.
The Trail Blazers secured the No 8 seed in the Western Conference only after Brooklyn's Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points, missed a jumper just before time expired.
Portland will play the ninth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, live on Sky Sports. If the Grizzlies win, a deciding game between the two teams would take place on Sunday. The winner of the Play-In takes the final Western Conference playoff spot and will face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
"We came out here and earned another win," Lillard said in an on-court interview after the win. "It feels better going into the Play-In game that, in our eight seeding games, we had to work for it. We deserve to be where we are going."
Defeat against Brooklyn would have ended Portland's season but Lillard, as he proved with 51- and 61-point performances in his previous two games, was not going to let the Blazers fail.
With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he pulled up and drained an outrageous long-range three-pointer from just inside the Nets half.
"Our season is on the line," Lillard said. "Two-and-a-half, maybe three minutes went by where I was just trying to make the right play. Then it got to a point where I knew I would not sleep well tonight knowing I was passive. Each time I saw a 'look', I didn't care how far (out) it was or if someone was close to me. If I had a sniff, I was raising up and shooting it."
The All-Star guard also made a huge defensive play in crunch time. With 1:12 remaining and Portland clinging to a two-point lead, he chased down LeVert for a steal, setting up CJ McCollum's free throws that made it 134-130.
LeVert came back with a three-point play and had a chance to win it after Carmelo Anthony missed a three-pointer, but his jumper was off target.
The narrow margin of victory against a team that had already secured their own playoff place did not surprise Lillard.
"Since we have been in the bubble, I have been watching every game I can," he said. "Whenever we aren't practising, I'm in my room or our meeting room watching games. Once I saw (the Nets) play I knew what we were coming into tonight.
"We weren't just going to get them out of there. They came with a lot of effort, they play together and they believe. Caris LeVert is cold! (He) is a great player and he got into the paint a lot, he finished, he made tough shots. He was crafty and creative all night.
"(On the last play of the game), once I saw CJ (McCollum force LeVert) out of the paint and make him take a tougher shot, at that point I thought we had a good chance because he hadn't had to take a lot of those shots off the bounce moving that fast all night.
"It was 'let's go get the rebound'. Melo crashed in and came up with it and we finished the game with a stop."
Watch the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Play-In on Saturday at 7:30pm live on Sky Sports Mix and via a free live stream on skysports.com, the Sky Sports app and Sky Sports' YouTube channel