CJ McCollum scored 37 points, including a fadeaway jumper with 11.4 seconds left, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied to beat the host Denver Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.
Damian Lillard was held to 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting and added 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Trail Blazers overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to advance to the West finals for the first time since 2000.
Game 1 against Golden State is Tuesday in Oakland, Calif.
McCollum added nine rebounds and Enes Kanter had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“This is arguably the biggest win we’ve had in the franchise in a long time,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “To be a part of it and the way we did, I’m thrilled for our guys tonight.
McCollum made 17 of 29 shots from the field, none bigger than his late jumper, as he came up big when the stakes were high.
“I got enough motivation,” McCollum said in a postgame television interview. “I got out of the mud. I went to Lehigh University. Nobody has ever been drafted from there before.”
Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 13 rebounds and Jamal Murray scored 17 for the Nuggets.
Denver coach Michael Malone said Jokic blamed himself for the collapse.
“I hope after 14 playoff games, America, everyone around the world come to appreciate his game,” Malone said. “For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring. He was upset because he thinks he didn’t do enough for us to win tonight.”
Denver, which led for most of the game, went without a field goal for 5:33 in the fourth quarter until Gary Harris hit a layup and Jokic followed with a floater to make it 94-93 with 1:43 left. McCollum’s jumper in the final 12 seconds made it 98-95.
Jokic was fouled and split two free throws and Portland’s Evan Turner hit two with eight seconds left to seal it.
Blazers swingman Rodney Hood, who scored 25 in Game 6, left in the third quarter with a left knee hyperextension and did not return. He had just six points.
Portland, which missed 18 of its 19 3-pointers in the first three quarters, hit two early in the fourth. Zach Collins drained one from the wing to put the Blazers ahead by two and Lillard hit another off of an offensive rebound to give Portland an 81-76 lead with 8:53 left.
The Blazers led 87-83 when Murray went up for a fast-break layup but McCollum blocked it. Turner hit two free throws to make it 89-83 with 4:26 left.
Paul Millsap hit two free throws with 3:47 left to cut it to four and Denver had a chance to get it to two, but Lillard stole an outlet pass and drained a 3-pointer to make it 92-85 with 3:09 left.
Portland trailed by nine at intermission but took its first lead at 71-70 on McCollum’s jumper with 12.1 seconds left in the third.
Monte Morris hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds left to give Denver a 72-71 lead heading into the fourth.
The Nuggets were the No. 2 seed in the West after a 54-win regular season. They made it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.
“Tonight is the end of our season but I’m not going to allow a Game 7 loss to take away from a magical year,” Malone said. “I couldn’t ask for more from our guys. The future is so bright. I love the moment, I love where we’re at but more importantly I love where we’re going and who we’re going there with.”
—Field Level Media