Kawhi Leonard’s Buzzer-Beater Puts Raptors in Eastern Conference Finals

Evan Turner, who scored just 4 points in the first six games of the series, added 14, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The Trail Blazers will again be on the road, facing the two-time-defending N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors beginning Tuesday night.

McCollum’s big game helped make up for a lackluster one by Damian Lillard, who made just 3 of 17 shots and scored 13 points. He did make two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first one gave Portland an 81-76 lead. The second, off Lillard’s steal of Jokic’s outlet pass, made it 92-85.

Nikola Jokic’s desperation 3-point attempt hit the rim, and Turner corralled the rebound and dribbled out the clock, sending the stunned crowd streaming to the exits at Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets had the best record in the league during the regular season but where they lost twice to Portland in the series.

The Nuggets raced to a 39-22 lead, and Game 7 was beginning to look a lot like Game 5, when Denver blew out Portland by 26 points in Denver. But Trail Blazers Coach Terry Stotts called a timeout with 7 minutes 26 seconds left in the second quarter, and his team began chipping away.

“There wasn’t going to be any quit,” Stotts said, adding, “It was just about regrouping.”

The Blazers were behind, 48-39, at halftime and trailed by just a point head into the fourth quarter.

That is when the Nuggets’ hopes of reaching their first Western Conference finals in a decade died with a 7-of-24 shooting performance, including 3 of 10 from Jokic, who tearfully blamed himself in the locker room for the loss despite leading Denver with 29 points and 13 rebounds.

Nonsense, said Nuggets Coach Michael Malone, who suggested Jokic established himself during these playoffs as the best big man in basketball and he petered out at the end only because the Nuggets had to rely so heavily on the 7-foot All-Star.

“I hope after 14 playoff games, America, everyone around the world, came to appreciate his game,” Malone said. “For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring.”(AP)

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