Damian Lillard might be the only player in the NBA capable of getting the last laugh after bricking a pair of critical free throws in the final minute of a loss and getting mocked and ridiculed by the opposing team.
That's because Lillard is the only active player with a pair of series-clinching buzzer-beaters, which set him up for the perfect clapback to the antics of Patrick Beverley and Paul George on the LA Clippers' bench after the Portland Trail Blazers star's uncharacteristic clutch failure.
As Lillard calmly reminded the world, the first time he ended a series with a walk-off shot was against Beverley's Houston Rockets in 2014. The 37-footer Lillard swished in George's grill to finish last season's first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder -- and essentially end an era for that franchise, as it turned out -- is fresh enough that no reminder was really necessary.
Lillard's cold-hearted wave at Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder ranks as the most memorable celebration in recent NBA history. It's obviously still on George's mind, as he imitated the gesture as the Trail Blazers left the floor after their 122-117 loss Saturday afternoon.
"The reason they reacting like that is because of what they expecting from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I have done at a high clip more times than not," Lillard said after mentioning that he had "sent home" Beverley and George before. "I am not offended by it.
"If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously."
One reason Lillard had opportunities to drill buzzer-beating daggers was because the clock operator did the job.
That's a mundane task easily taken for granted. However, it didn't happen in the final seconds of the first overtime with the Denver Nuggets trailing the Utah Jazz by two points in the other Saturday afternoon game, adding drama to the Western Conference's wild day in the Walt Disney World bubble.
Once the dust cleared, and the play was reviewed, it was ruled that Nikola Jokic's bucket would have went through the net with 0.3 seconds on the clock if it had actually been running as it should have been. There was another clock malfunction on the ensuing play -- giving the Jazz a second chance to try to prevent the second OT in a game Utah eventually lost -- adding a bit of embarrassment for the league office.
So maybe it's a good thing that the basketball world's focus had shifted back to Lillard vs. the chippy Clips again by that point.
As tends to happen with the best NBA beefs, it had spilled over to social media, starting with George's comment on an Instagram post featuring Lillard's postgame reaction.
The scene on Instagram 🍿 👀 pic.twitter.com/wk4JuD5af7— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 8, 2020
"And you getting sent home this year," George said with a crying-laughing emoji. He added "respect" with a fist emoji.
Once again, Lillard got the last word with his reply to George: "keep switching teams ... running from the grind . You boys is chumps."
The NBA is truly back, in all its glory. -- Tim MacMahon
Luka makes history versus Giannis
Luka Doncic notched his NBA-leading 17th triple-double with 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds, including the last seven points of regulation to force overtime, to help give the Dallas Mavericks a 136-132 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Doncic, 21, also clinched being the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in triple-doubles on the day the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year was named a finalist for the Most Improved Player award.
"He's getting better by the hour, by the day," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I was most impressed with his leadership throughout the game. Kept a real calm demeanor, kept guys playing during some tough stretches."
Giannis Antetokounmpo valiantly tried to keep up with Luka on Saturday, but his 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks were not enough, as the reigning MVP fouled out in the final seconds of the contest. Antetokounmpo was named a finalist for the MVP award along with LeBron James and James Harden earlier in the day.
The Suns run the bubble
The Phoenix Suns stand alone as the undefeated team in the NBA bubble, as Devin Booker's 35 points paced his squad to a 119-112 victory over the Miami Heat on Saturday. The last time the Suns went on a five-game winning streak was in December 2014, a span of 447 games between streaks. The only team to go longer since their most recent five-game win streak is the New York Knicks (March 2014).
Also of note, Booker hit the 30-point plateau for the 26th time this season, the second most in a season in Suns history. Amar'e Stoudemire holds the franchise record with 29 30-point games in a season.
T.J. Warren refuses to chill
Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren has been the most prolific scorer in the bubble, and he continued rolling on Saturday evening against the Los Angeles Lakers. Warren increased his bubble-leading scoring average to 34.8 after a 39-point effort against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
"Hopefully he stays hot for us because we need it," Victor Oladipo said, holding up a hand with fingers crossed.
Warren closed the show with seven straight points to put Indiana ahead for good as the Pacers improved to 4-1 in the bubble and moved a half-game ahead of Philadelphia for the No. 5 seed in the East.
Nuggets outlast Jazz in double overtime
The wildest ride at Walt Disney World on Saturday wasn't Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -- it was the Jazz-Nuggets game. Utah led by as many as 18 points, but Jamal Murray -- making his bubble debut -- helped erase that lead and give Denver a six-point lead with 19.4 seconds left in regulation.
But things were far from over. Donovan Mitchell made two free throws to slice the deficit to four, then, after a Denver turnover, knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. After Jerami Grant split a pair of free throws, Mitchell's driving layup with 0.9 seconds left sent the game into overtime.
Mitchell's clutch shooting continued in overtime, where he made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 30.8 seconds left, then -- after a pair of Nikola Jokic free throws -- put Utah up by two with 3.4 seconds left. But Jokic responded with a layup with 0.3 seconds to force a second overtime, though that wasn't without controversy.
The drama continued in the second overtime when Mitchell made a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left to cut Denver's lead to two. Murray was fouled and missed both free throws, but the Jazz were out of timeouts and Mitchell's half-court heave fell short, allowing the Nuggets to escape with a two-point win.
Ben Simmons to undergo knee surgery
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons will undergo surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. While the 76ers haven't ruled Simmons out for the season, sources say it would take a deep playoff run for him to return. For now, Philadelphia -- currently tied with the Indiana Pacers for fifth in the East -- will need to prepare for a postseason without Simmons.
Lillard responds to Beverley's and George's antics
Damian Lillard contends that Patrick Beverley and Paul George trolling him after his misses is a sign of respect and points out he has sent both home in the playoffs.
NBA names awards finalists
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, four-time winner LeBron James and 2018 MVP James Harden headline the list of finalists for the NBA's six major individual awards, all of which were announced Saturday afternoon. Full story »
Dallas Mavericks 136, Milwaukee Bucks 132 | Box Score
The Eastern Conference playoff teams are set, and there will be no East play-in game next weekend after the Washington Wizards were officially eliminated Friday.
In the Western Conference, only two games Saturday involve bubble teams. The Sacramento Kings avoided elimination when the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the LA Clippers. And the Phoenix Suns climbed to two behind Memphis for the No. 8 seed after beating the Miami Heat.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-37 (.471) | --
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 32-39 (.451) | 1.5 GB
10. Phoenix Suns | 31-39 (.443) | 2.0 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 30-38 (.441) | 2.0 GB
12. New Orleans Pelicans | 30-39 (.435) | 2.5 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 29-40 (.420) | 3.5 GB
Sunday's must-see games
It was a first for both teams on Friday in the bubble -- Memphis picked up its first win while Toronto was dealt its first loss. The Grizzlies earned a much-needed victory over Oklahoma City to hold on to eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race. On the other hand, the Raptors dropped their first game to Boston in their largest loss of the season.
Because of the quirks with seeding-game scheduling and the end of the regular season, this is the only meeting between Memphis and Toronto this season. Both teams will be wearing their classic uniforms for this game: Toronto in its original dino jerseys and Memphis with its teal Vancouver jerseys. -- Andrew Lopez
These two teams have met only once this season: Zion Williamson's debut on Jan. 22. Despite Williamson's 17-point outburst in a 3-minute, 8-second stretch in the fourth quarter, San Antonio held on for a 121-117 victory. Originally, the teams were set to play three times over the final 14 games, including the regular-season finale. Instead, this is their only matchup on the NBA campus.
San Antonio is making a push for a playoff spot, while the Pelicans are just happy to be in the race after dropping three of their first four games in Florida. Williamson, who did not play against the Wizards on Friday on the second night of a back-to-back set, is expected to be available against San Antonio.
Without guard Ben Simmons on Friday, Philadelphia seemingly sleepwalked through three quarters against Orlando before pulling away for a victory in the fourth quarter against a Magic squad that was missing Aaron Gordon (hamstring) and Jonathan Isaac (ACL). Philadelphia has been up and down in the bubble despite coming away with a 3-1 record -- picking up a win over San Antonio despite a furious Spurs comeback, a single-digit win over Washington and then the victory over Orlando.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are continuing their push to make the playoffs and turn up the pressure on the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. Portland will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. At the very least, Portland is putting itself in the right spot for the inevitable play-in tournament in the West.
Analysis and intel
The NBA restart has gone relatively smoothly, but concerns around when next season will start, navigating a possible Olympics and coaching availabilities are dominating discussion inside the bubble.
The Blazers' surge has changed the West play-in race. Here are the latest projections.
The NBA playoffs won't be the first postseason of Doncic's pro career. Does that mean he'll be ready to roll?