A pair of eighth-seeded teams delivered stunning upsets in their playoff openers on Tuesday as the Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic surprised the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Damian Lillard scored 34 points as the Trail Blazers toppled the West’s number one seeded Lakers 100-93 and Nikola Vucevic tallied 35 points as the Magic defeated the East’s top seeded Bucks 122-110 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
“Every time we have played since we have been here, it is like a playoff game,” said Lillard. “So that prepared us for a game like this.”
The last time both NBA top seeds lost their playoff openers was 2003 when the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons stumbled out of the gate.
Game two is Thursday in Orlando, Florida
Lillard drained several long three-pointers including one from 36 feet with just over three minutes left to break a 89-89 tie. Three-pointers are something he has been working on in practice.
“In the summer when I step away, I try to find ways I can improve my game,” Lillard said.
“Playing further out was major part what I wanted to add to my game. It is starting to show. I am just reaping the benefits of the work I put in.”
CJ McCollum had 21 points and Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic scored 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Blazers, who made 13 of 34 three-pointers. Carmelo Anthony added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
New James mark
Anthony Davis finished with 28 points and 11 boards, while LeBron James had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists for the Lakers, who struggled from beyond the arc making just five of 32 attempts. Kyle Kuzma chipped in 14 points.
James is the first player in history to record a 20 point, 15 rebound and 15 assist triple double in the postseason.
“We had a lot of wide open looks. The first playoff game so there were a lot of jitters. We have to calm down, take our time. The shots will be there all series,” said Lakers Kuzma.
Gary Trent nailed a clutch three-pointer with 75 seconds left in the fourth to give the Blazers a 98-93 lead. Nurkic then sealed the win with a late dunk.
The Magic got off to a quick start to seize a double-digit lead then blunted a second-half rally by the Bucks, who boast the league’s top player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
‘We focus on ourselves’
Orlando came into the series as big underdogs against the NBA’s best all-around team.
“We don’t care what other people have to say,” Vucevic said. “We focus on ourselves and we came out and played a great game on both ends of the floor.”
Vucevic, of Montenegro, also had 14 rebounds and four assists. Terrence Ross finished with 18 points and six rebounds, while DJ Augustin added 11 points and 11 assists for Orlando, who shot 49 percent from the field and made 16 baskets from beyond the arc.
“You have to really be ready for what they do,” Vucevic said.
“We have to make sure we know their stuff and we are prepared for everything. Tonight, we definitely were on top of that. We did a good job executing the game plan.”
Reigning league MVP Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists.
Milwaukee closed the gap to 62-52 at the half, then began the third quarter on a 16-7 run to cut Orlando’s advantage to one.
The Bucks got within six points, 99-93, on a Brook Lopez basket with 8:13 to play, but Orlando answered with Ross’ driving dunk and Augustin’s three-pointer to push its advantage back to double digits.
Orlando’s Evan Fournier was held scoreless until hitting three clutch three-pointers late in the fourth quarter to help clinch the victory.
In another playoff encounter, James Harden scored 37 points to lift the Houston Rockets to a 123-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite not having Russell Westbrook for the fifth time in six games, the Rockets offence was sizzling, combining for 76 points in the second and third quarters.
The Miami Heat ran away for a 113-101 win over the Indiana Pacers after Tyler Herro’s jump shot with 8:52 remaining broke a tie.