PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Portland Trail Blazers stunned the Houston Rockets 99-98 to take their playoff series in six games and advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.
In the raucous postgame celebration, Lillard took the public address microphone and shouted “Rip City!”
Portland, making its first playoff appearance since 2011, had been eliminated in the first round in its last six trips, and hadn’t advanced to the second round since 2000.
Dwight Howard made four consecutive free throws to tie the game at 91 before making a bank shot that put Houston ahead with 3:04 to go. Robin Lopez scored on a tip shot to give the Blazers a 94-93 lead with 2:15 left, setting up a wild finish.
Howard’s layup and foul shot put the Rockets back up 96-94 before Nicolas Batum’s fadeaway jumper tied it again with 39.9 seconds left. Chandler Parsons scored on a reverse layup with 0.9 seconds left to give Houston the lead.
Lillard prevented the series from going back to Houston with his 3-pointer as time ran out. He finished with 25 points.
Portland will face the winner of the series between San Antonio and Dallas. The Mavericks forced a deciding Game 7 with a 113-111 victory over the Spurs on Friday night. There are five first-round playoff series that have gone to seven games.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
After losing the opening two games in Houston, then claiming one of a pair in Portland, the Rockets staved off elimination with a 108-98 victory on Wednesday night to narrow Portland’s advantage in the series to 3-2. Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Jeremy Lin redeemed himself from a poor performance in Game 4 with 21 points off the bench.
Harden led the Rockets on Friday night with 34 points. Howard had 26 points and 11 rebounds as Houston — which earned the nickname “Clutch City” back in the mid-1990s when the team won back-to-back NBA championships — failed to become the ninth team to come back from a 3-2 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series and advance.