CJ McCollum leads Blazers past Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7

Associated Press

DENVER — Damian Lillard‘s shots kept banging off the backboard, rattling off the rim, going everywhere but through the hoop.

The Portland Trail Blazers are going to the Western Conference Finals anyway because CJ McCollum had his back.

McCollum scored 37 points and added a crucial chase-down block in the closing minutes that helped the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to their first conference championship since 2000.

They’ll open Tuesday night at Golden State against the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in a series pitting Portland’s Seth Curry against his big brother, Golden State star Steph Curry.

Lillard scored 13 points and made just 3 of 17 shots from the field, but two of them were critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put Portland ahead 81-76 and 92-85.

“It’s a luxury to have two guys like that who can find different ways to score in different ways,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “CJ does it one way, Dame does it in another. On a night when Dame struggled shooting the ball CJ came up big.”

The Blazers were down 48-39 at halftime and trailed by just a point heading into the fourth quarter.

That’s when the Nuggets’ hopes of reaching their first Western Conference Finals in a decade died with a 7-of-24 shooting performance, including 3 of 10 from Jokic, who tearfully blamed himself in the locker room for the loss.

It was a devastating end to Denver’s season after the Nuggets ended a six-year playoff drought and earned the second seed in the Western Conference bracket.


Portland: Rodney Hood hyperextended his left knee in the third quarter. … Evan Turner, who scored just four points in the first six games of the series, added 14 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.

Denver: The Nuggets were 2 of 19 from beyond the arc and missed 11 free throws. Portland was 4 of 26 on 3-pointers and 20 of 24 from the stripe.

Leonard hits bouncer at buzzer, Raptors beat 76ers in Game 7

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard hit a shot from the corner over Joel Embiid at the buzzer that bounced off the rim four times before falling to give the Toronto Raptors a 92-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

After Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler tied it with a driving layup with 4.2 seconds left, Toronto used its final timeout to draw up a play for Leonard, who dribbled toward the right corner and launched the high-arching shot.

It bounced to the top of the backboard, hit the near side of the rim again, then the other side twice before going through, setting off a wild celebration as the Raptors advanced to the conference finals for the second time in four seasons. They will open the conference finals Wednesday night at Milwaukee.

Leonard scored 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting. Serge Ibaka added 17 points, and Pascal Siakam had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Embiid led the 76ers with 21 points and 11 rebounds. JJ Redick had 17 points, Butler added 16, and Tobias Harris had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Anonymous Celtic says Kyrie is ‘hard to play with’ & ‘it’s all about him’ while Windhorst & T-Mac say him & Lebron ‘need each other’

Was Kyrie too much for Boston or vice versa?

Rachel Nichols, Patrick Beverley, Tracy McGrady and Brian Windhorst discuss a quote from an anonymous Boston Celtics player to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, in which Kyrie Irving was called “hard to play with” and “it’s all about him.” They talk about what this might mean for him in 2019 NBA free agency, and whether he should join LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers, (potentially) team up with Kevin Durant on the New York Knicks.

LeBron James-Kyrie Irving reunion could hinge on this Lakers scenario

Mark Fischer | NEW YORK POST

“If you guys will have me back.”

That was the preseason caveat Kyrie Irving left with raucous Celtics fans of his plans to re-sign the following summer.

Eight months of misery later, they may not. But could LeBron James be open to a reunion?

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Irving has had “discussions with people about playing for the Lakers,” ESPN reported Saturday, another sign his much-maligned time as a Celtic may be over.

“But as time passes here and as the possibility exists that Jason Kidd could be hired as the Lakers coach, I think the possibility of Kyrie and LeBron reuniting — that door, which was deadbolted, has been un-deadbolted and has now been cracked open … It might even be opening more by the day,” Brian Windhorst said on-air, via Hoops Hype. “And I say that just because I think it’s on Kyrie’s radar, it’s on Kyrie’s board. He has had discussions with people about playing for the Lakers.”

UPDATE: L.A. Lakers hire Frank Vogel as head coach with Jason Kidd on staff

The Knicks and Nets are among the teams expected to covet Irving. Both have their attractions — the Knicks, owners of two max contract slots, could team him up with Kevin Durant, while the Nets are one of the league’s most-up-and-coming teams following a surprise playoff appearance this spring.

RELATED: Kyrie Irving’s playoff flop should be red flag for Knicks

But neither has the LeBron factor.

Irving and James of course won a championship together in Cleveland, before Irving, who grew up in West Orange, N.J., forced his way out two seasons ago to escape The King’s shadow. The two seemed to reconcile last season, when Irving famously called James to apologize for how he handled their time together.

The woebegone Lakers, playoff-less since 2013, desperately need another superstar to accompany the 34-year-old James. But a head coach — following the amicable breakup from Luke Walton — tops the offseason to-do list, which is where the reported Kidd connection may come into play. Kidd, who previously interviewed for the gig, is expected to still be in play after the Lakers failed to lock up Tyronn Lue.

Among the reasons Lue pulled out was the Lakers reportedly insisting on Kidd being named an assistant coach. Frank Vogel, the former Magic and Pacers coach, has emerged as the latest front-runner as the Lakers also plan to pair him with Kidd, according to ESPN. Irving grew up a Nets fan watching Kidd dazzle at the position he now plays.

Aside from before the season and his infamous, “I don’t owe anybody s–t” line in February, Irving has remained flat over his future and declined to get into it after the Celtics bowed out of the playoffs last week.

The speculation, though, won’t cease until July.


DeMarcus Cousins ‘on course’ to rejoin Warriors in West finals

NBC Sports Bay Area staff

The Warriors won another playoff series — and might have regained DeMarcus Cousins in the process.

The Golden State big man, who tore his left quad last month during the first-round series against the LA Clippers, could rejoin the Warriors’ roster during the Western Conference finals, the New York Times’ Marc Stein reported Friday night, citing league sources.

The key phrase in Stein’s Cousins report might be “if he maintains his recent progress.” Two days before the Warriors closed out their second-round series against the Houston Rockets, Cousins was spotted at the practice facility doing drills, lightly jogging and getting up shots. While it didn’t seemed like a return was imminent, it was progress nonetheless.

[RELATED: Boogie expects to return during the playoffs]

With the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets lined up as possible Warriors Western Conference opponents, starting with Game 1 on Tuesday, the timing couldn’t be better. Cousins would be a nice counter to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and the Blazers’ big man quartet of Jusuf Nurkic, Enes Kanter, Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins, especially during physical playoff games in which every possession and every rebound matters. As well as Kevon Looney played in Cousins’ stead against the Rockets, Boogie’s All-Star skill set cannot be matched by many centers in the league.

Add this news on top of the possibility that Kevin Durant could return from his right calf strain, and, as Stein noted, the Warriors quickly could be back at full strength. That would be bad news for the NBA and thrilling news in the Bay.