The Portland Trail Blazers are heading to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000 after a thrilling 100-96 Game 7 win over the Denver Nuggets on the road.
CJ McCollum led the way with a game-high 37 points on the night, with Damian Lillard struggling with his shot all night, connecting on just 3-of-17 shots for his 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 29 points, 13 rebounds and two assists, with Jamal Murray adding 17 and Gary Harris 15.
With the Blazers booking an appointment with the Golden State Warriors, here's four key takeaways from today's action:
CJ McCollum came to play
On a night where Damian Lillard struggled to get going, CJ McCollum took the reigns for the Blazers, willing them to a Game 7 victory.
McCollum scored 14 of his game-high 37 points in the crucial third quarter, helping the Blazers claw their way back from as many as 17 points down to go into the fourth quarter trailing by just one point.
In the final 90 seconds of the game, McCollum came up with two huge mid-range jumpers to keep the Blazers in front, scoring six of their final eight points on the night.
McCollum channelled his inner LeBron with his Game 7 heroics, doing his best impersonation of the King with this monster chasedown block on Jamal Murray in the fourth quarter.
CJ HUSTLES BACK FOR THE DENIAL! 👀#RipCity 87#MileHighBasketball 83- NBA (@NBA) May 12, 2019
4:26 to play on #NBAonABC pic.twitter.com/xueD0FVjWV
Dame steps up when it matters most
It was a rough Game 7 for Damian Lillard.
Despite finishing with just 13 points on 3-for-17 shooting from the field, Portland's All-Star guard was involved in one of the game's biggest sequences.
With 3:28 remaining in the game, Denver grabbed a defensive rebound with an opportunity to cut into a four-point deficit. All-Star centre Nikola Jokic tossed an errant outlet pass that was intercepted by Lillard, who found Evan Turner on the wing before he relocated to the left corner for a wide-open triple.
Steal :arrow_right: relocate :arrow_right: DAME TIME! :watch:#RipCity 94#MileHighBasketball 87- NBA (@NBA) May 12, 2019
2:37 left on #NBAonABC pic.twitter.com/7V98e3fSxX
While Lillard struggled to get going from the field, he made his presence felt as he grabbed down 10 rebounds, dished out eight assists and snagged three steals in the Blazers' decisive win.
As the Blazers move on to face the Warriors, improved production and efficiency is to be expected from Lillard.
Moments like the one above serve as a reminder that big-time players will always find a way to make an impact regardless of how the game is going.
A tale of two halves
The Blazers just couldn't buy a bucket in the first half of Game 7 and were lucky to only go into the half down by nine points.
Outside of McCollum, the rest of the team shot just 7-of-34 in the first half, with Lillard managing just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Credit the Nuggets, who came out of the gates playing decisively on their home floor as they made a point to smother Lillard at every turn, limiting his impact all game.
After Denver took a 12-point lead after the first quarter and a 17-point lead in the second, they couldn't finish the job, letting the Blazers back in as they struggled to keep up their offence as they game wore on.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball from deep, with the Blazers going 4-of-26 from deep, while the Nuggets, hit just 2-of-19 threes, missing their final 17 attempts after Jokic his two early triples in the first quarter.
What goes on at the top
Last summer, when CJ McCollum spoke with Warriors All-Star forward Kevin Durant on the Blazers' title aspirations, this was his response:
Kevin Durant busts out laughing when CJ McCollum says the Blazers can win the title: 'Don't worry about what goes on at the top of things'https://t.co/jMHDvDEe8g pic.twitter.com/AWCZrQP8BP- Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) July 25, 2018
Now, 10 months later, a virtuoso performance from McCollum has earned the Blazers a date with the Warriors, who await the return of the injured Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, in the Western Conference Finals.
What was once a laughable anecdote has now become an interesting reality in which McCollum, Lillard and the Blazers will look to continue to shock the NBA world.