After eight straight playoff losses over the past two years, the Portland Trail Blazers finally got a win.
Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the third-seeded Blazers opened their series against the No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday with a 104-99 victory.
“We know how it feels to win again,” Lillard said. “Now we can just kind of move on from that and stay focused on this series.”
Portland was swept by New Orleans last season and the Warriors the year before.
Enes Kanter added 20 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds for the Blazers, who were making their sixth straight postseason appearance. CJ McCollum added 24 points.
Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth career postseason triple-double. Paul George, who was a game-time decision because of a sore shoulder, added 26 points and 10 rebounds despite a rough shooting night.
Westbrook appeared to hurt his right ankle in the final quarter and grimaced while trying to walk it off. Trainers attended to him on the bench at the next timeout but he returned and his layup closed the gap to 91-87 with just under 4 minutes left.
Asked about it afterward, Westbrook said: “We’ll see.”
After trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, Oklahoma City pulled within as 93-92 on George’s 3-pointer with 2:44 left. Lillard answered with a long 3-pointer to keep the Blazers ahead and Al-Farouq Aminu made free throws to extend Portland’s lead to 98-92.
George made a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds remaining to get the Thunder within 100-97 but Portland hung on.
“We knew it was going to be a fight all night long. Even at the beginning of the game when we were up like 17 at one point, I wasn’t looking at the scoreboard like, `Let’s put them away.” I was like, `Let’s just stay solid, keep competing, keep playing hard,’ Lillard said. “And then when they make their runs, and when they get back in the game, (you) just weather those storms.”
It was the first postseason meeting between the teams since the Thunder moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City beat the Blazers in all four meetings this season, including a heated 129-121 overtime victory on March 7.
The Thunder have been to the playoffs every season since moving from Seattle in 2008, but they haven’t gotten past the opening round for the past two seasons.
George was nursing a sore right shoulder and was considered day-to-day for Sunday’s game but he started. However he was just 1 of 6 from the floor in the opening quarter. For the game, he made four of 15 3-point attempts.
“Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder,” he said. “Then fast forward to today this is the first day I’ve even shot the ball, so for me it’s just rhythm.”
George missed the Thunder’ regular-season finale Wednesday at Milwaukee because of the nagging injury, which also kept him out of games on Feb. 28, March 2 and March 3.
McCollum missed 10 games down the stretch with a left knee strain and had only played in two games since returning. But he started and hit his first two 3-point attempts.
The Blazers’ hopes for postseason success were dealt a blow last month when center Jusuf Nurkic was lost for the season with a broken left leg. Nurkic was averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds when he sustained the gruesome injury during a game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Kanter, signed just before the All-Star break after he was waived by the New York Knicks, has started in Nurkic’s place.
The Thunder rallied from a 19-point deficit in the first half to trail by just 54-48 at the break. But they struggled from 3-point range, making just two of 18 attempts.
There was simmering tension between the teams. Terrance Ferguson and McCollum had a heated exchange in the second quarter, earning technical fouls. Ferguson earned his third foul and headed to the bench.
Westbrook’s layup got the Thunder within 64-60, but he collected his fourth foul late in the third and went to the bench. The Blazers went into the fourth quarter with a 76-69 lead.
The Thunder’s only lead was in the opening quarter.
“It’s a series. First to four. They won the first game,” Westbrook said. “Now we make adjustments, come back, play harder next game and try to take it.”
Thunder: While the Thunder swept the Blazers 4-0 during the regular season, Portland swept them in four games the season before.
Trail Blazers: Blazers coach Terry Stotts concluded his pregame talk with the media by saying. “All right. Masters.” The Blazers were 8-8 in the postseason against the SuperSonics. … Portland had won the last eight regular-season games at the Moda Center. … Kanter had his third playoff double-double. … The Blazers haven’t made it out of the first round for the past two seasons. Last year as a No. 3 seed Portland got swept by the New Orleans Pelicans.
In just his ninth start with the Blazers, Kanter became just the third player in team history with at least 20 points and 18 rebounds in playoff game. Bill Walton did it three times and LaMarcus Aldridge once.
“He gave us a lot of toughness inside,” Stotts said. “Obviously, his rebounding and scoring. I thought his conditioning was really good. He maintained a high level of play for a long period of time.”
UP NEXT: Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Moda Center.