By Matthew Zimmer
The NBA referees have a reputation for not always being great at their job. Thursday night’s game between Portland and Phoenix might just be their Mona Lisa.
Jusuf Nurkić was justifiably upset for most of the game. He was so irate that even picked up his first technical foul of the season during the third quarter.
The Trail Blazers and Suns battled back-and-forth in a highly entertaining game, minus the constant interruptions for bad foul calls, but I digress.
Devin Booker was held in check until the final shot where Norman Powell grazed Booker’s elbow with 2.4 seconds left. The Suns All-Star hit both free throws after Terry Stotts challenged and lost.
Thanks to the failed challenge, Portland didn’t have a final timeout to advance the ball. Robert Covington inbounded the ball, CJ McCollum couldn’t handle it, and he missed the shot to boot. Phoenix wins, 118-117.
If Portland (41-30) had won, they would have officially clinched a spot in the top six and avoid the play-in tournament. Instead, the Blazers are not out of the woods yet.
Honestly, I don’t know ALL the scenarios of how Portland can clinch a playoff spot. However, the simplest routes are either 1) Portland beats Denver; 2) Dallas (41-29) loses both of their remaining games; or 3) the Lakers (40-30) lose one of their final two games.
Back to the game, Stotts choosing to challenge was the right call. Powell’s reach-in looked clean even after initially seeing the replay. However, after seeing the play a third time, I’ll admit Powell hit Booker … but it was a weak call that’s gone uncalled in several games especially late.
The loss spoils a 41-point night from Damian Lillard, including 24 in the fourth. It was Lillard’s seventh straight game with at least 30 points. He also had five assists and five rebounds.
The supporting cast was solid behind Dame. McCollum had 27 points and six assists. Covington finished with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Foul aside, Powell played well with 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
For the Suns (49-21), Chris Paul was an annoyance as usual and led Phoenix with 26 points. The unexpected problem was Cameron Payne who scored 21 points off the bench on 8-of-12 shooting, which included 3-for-3 from deep.
Up next, Portland closes out the regular season with No. 4-seed Denver on Sunday, tip-off at 6 p.m. PT.
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