The Los Angeles Lakers, led by three-time NBA champion LeBron James, were stunned on Tuesday night as they lost Game 1 of their play-off match-up against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers were beaten 100-93 to go down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series – with Game 2 on Thursday in the Orlando bubble.
The match was James’ first play-off appearance with the Lakers since he joined the historic franchise in the 2018 off-season. His first campaign ended with them finishing outside the play-offs in the Western Conference.
However, things panned out differently this term with Frank Vogel’s side finishing top of the Western Conference – to make the purple and gold among the heavy favourites to win the NBA title.
But their quest to do so in the post-season took a dent on Tuesday as the eighth-seeded Portland were inspired by their All-Star point guard Damian Lillard as he scored 34 points.
James had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists, becoming the first player to have as many points, rebounds and assists in the play-offs. It was his 24th post-season triple-double and his assists were a career playoff high.
‘We had a couple of breakdowns, which you can’t have down the stretch, especially against a team like Portland,’ the 35-year-old reflected post-match.
After sinking a deep three-pointer midway through the final quarter, Lillard did a little dance. The 30-year-old’s team-mate Jusuf Nurkic pointed to his wrist too – to signify Lillard’s trademark celebration of ‘Dame time’.
Portland scraped their way into the play-offs with a play-in win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, to determine who would face the Lakers, following a late season surge to qualify for that match. And Lillard believes their tough route to the eighth seed helped prepared them for Game 1.
‘Every game since we’ve been here has been a play-off game. So that prepared us for a game like this,’ he said.
‘It’s only one win. I’m happy to be here competing in the play-offs again, but we’ve got to move on to the next one.’
Nurkic had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Portland, who led by as many as 16 points in the first half. The Lakers, making their first play-off appearance since 2013, narrowed the advantage to 57-56 at the break and stayed close the rest of the way.
Trailing 78-75 going into the final period, the Lakers tied it at 78-78 on Kyle Kuzma’s three-pointer. James’ layup gave Los Angeles the lead, and Kuzma added a pair of free throws and another layup to extend it to 84-78.
Lillard’s thre-pointer tied it again at 87-87 with five minutes and 46 seconds to go and CJ McCollum’s floater gave Portland the lead.
After Danny Green’s lay-up tied it again for Los Angeles, Lillard nailed another three-pointer. Anthony Davis’ dunk got the Lakers within 95-93, but Gary Trent Jr. made a three-pointer that put Portland up 98-93 before Nurkic dunked to seal it.
Davis, James’ team-mate and fellow All-Star, had 28 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers.