NBA

Lillard scores 44 points in Trail Blazers win, Giannis guides Bucks to thrilling victory

By Sports Desk March 05, 2021

Damian Lillard posted 44 points for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 123-119 win over the Sacramento Kings before the NBA All-Star break.

Lillard shot eight three-pointers in a dominant display, while he scored 10 straight points down the stretch to help take down the Kings on Thursday.

Portland's Lillard is the first NBA player to hit a game-winning field goal while trailing in the final 15 seconds one day and then follow that up with a 40-point game the next day since Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant did it on January 31 and February 1 in 2010, according to Stats Perform.

Trail Blazers team-mate Enes Kanter provided support with 22 points and 21 rebounds in a dominant double-double display.

According to Stats Perform, it is the first time in franchise history the Trail Blazers have had a player with 40-plus points and another with 20-plus points and 20-plus rebounds in the same game.

Elsewhere, Ja Morant and Jrue Holiday traded clutch buckets in the final 10 seconds, with the latter earning the Milwaukee Bucks a game-winning lead with two seconds remaining in their thrilling112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was the first pick by Team LeBron for Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta, fuelled the Bucks by scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Lowry ties Raptors record

The depleted Toronto Raptors lost 132-125 to the Boston Celtics, but Kyle Lowry impressed. The veteran guard finished with 14 points and 19 assists. He tied a franchise record with his 19 assists, matching Damon Stoudamire (1996) and Jose Calderon (twice). Chris Boucher led the way with 30 points in the absence of stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, as well as head coach Nick Nurse and other players and stuff due to the league's health and safety protocols. Boston's Jayson Tatum starred with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists as the Celtics claimed their fourth win a row.

Bradley Beal (33 points and seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) were exceptional as the Washington Wizards produced a big second-half performance to knock off the Los Angeles Clippers 119-117. The Clippers were without Paul George.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic put up 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 113-103 win at the Indiana Pacers.

The New York Knicks topped the Detroit Pistons 114-104 behind Julius Randle's double-double of 27 points and 16 rebounds, while he also tallied seven assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33 points and eight assists inspired the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 107-102 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Brogd-off day

Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon had a night to forget in his side's loss to the Nuggets, which leaves Indiana 16-19 and slipping from playoffs contention in the Eastern Conference. Brogdon finished with 10 points from 34 minutes on court, shooting at four-of-14 from the field, while he missed all five of his three-point attempts.

 

Hart's half-courter

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    James Tavernier's first Europa League run appeared likely to be his last.

    The right-back finally got his chance at Newcastle United in 2012-13 as Alan Pardew's first-team squad was stretched to breaking point.

    However, Tavernier's chance equated to just eight appearances and five starts in all competitions, utilised right across the defence. He played 301 minutes in Europe (including qualifiers) but looked a little out of his depth.

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    Newcastle may not have had another European campaign in the past nine years, but Tavernier has enjoyed five – and now, in Seville, a final.

    The right-back goal machine

    Rangers hoped for goals when they struck a deal with Wigan to bring Martyn Waghorn and Tavernier to Ibrox in 2015. Waghorn delivered in the club's promotion campaign, scoring 28 times in all competitions, but Rangers surely could not have anticipated Tavernier would also chip in with 15.

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    This season, Tavernier has scored 18 goals and assisted a further 16 for 34 goal involvements.

    Having either scored or assisted every 147 minutes on average in 2021-22, Tavernier is operating in the same sort of range as Rafael Leao (141), Dejan Kulusevski (144), Luis Suarez (153) and, incredibly, Sadio Mane (157).

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    The standard of the competition in Scotland might also be counted against Tavernier, yet his 16 European appearances alone have yielded seven goals (three non-penalty goals), three assists and 10 goal involvements – again at a rate of one every 147 minutes.

    Top marksman with Morelos missing

    Tavernier's first goal involvement of this European campaign saw the Rangers captain lift a pass in behind the Alashkert defence for Alfredo Morelos to score what proved to be the decisive goal of their Europa League play-off, getting the then Scottish champions back on track after Champions League qualifying heartbreak.

    Wednesday's final against Eintracht Frankfurt would not have been possible without that August example of this most effective assister-scorer combination.

    Unfortunately, Rangers will not be able to rely on that link-up again this week, with Morelos ruled out for the season when he underwent thigh surgery last month, seemingly dealing a sizeable blow to his side's hopes of European glory.

    Morelos, with 29 goals, is Rangers' all-time leading European marksman, while he this season also became their top scorer discounting qualifiers as he brought his total to 15.

    "It is a big blow to us, because he is our striker and we now don't have him any more this season, so we are disappointed," manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst said.

    "But we know what the problem is, how long he's out, and we have to move on. That's the only thing we have to do now."

    Tavernier has since ensured the talismanic forward has not been missed. His seven goals are the most ever by a Rangers player in a European campaign (excluding qualifiers) – Morelos in 2019-20 had a share of the previous record of six – and remarkably make him the leading scorer in this season's Europa League.

    The man for the big occasion, each of Tavernier's goals have come in the knockout stage, including opening the scoring in each of Rangers' four home legs.

    When Kemar Roofe joined Morelos on the sidelines against RB Leipzig in the semi-finals, it was Tavernier who appeared in the centre-forward position to level the tie in Glasgow with his 15th European goal (10 excluding qualifiers).

    Trent of the Europa League

    The first of Tavernier's European goals came back in July 2018, by which point Alexander-Arnold had already played in a Champions League final for Liverpool.

    Alexander-Arnold might be seven years Tavernier's junior, but he has been a source of inspiration in recent seasons for the Rangers skipper, who named him alongside Liverpool team-mate Andy Robertson and Brazil greats Dani Alves, Marcelo and Cafu in October 2020 as a standard-bearer in the full-back role.

    And comparisons between the pair, both of whom are preparing for European finals, come easily.

    Alexander-Arnold has created 19 chances in the Champions League this season, just behind Tavernier's 20 in the Europa League, with the pair each highly influential both in open play and from set-pieces.

    Tavernier makes a long list of English right-backs who remain uncapped at international level due to the incredible competition in Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad, and former Rangers captain Lorenzo Amoruso tells Stats Perform: "I showcased him in Italy, but nobody cared because, of course, it happened to me, too: the best player in Scotland, thanks to some unbelievable performances, but never a call for the national team.

    "I think I deserved it – at least as a reward or out of curiosity. This Amoruso, as a defender, becomes the best player in Scotland... it is not something that happens every day. The same applies to Tavernier."

    Yet even Alexander-Arnold has only turned out 16 times for England, clearly behind Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and now Reece James in the pecking order.

    The explanations for Alexander-Arnold's limited opportunities often focus on his defensive shortcomings – the same attributes for which Tavernier has come under scrutiny.

    However, neither have committed an error leading to a shot, let alone a goal, in the Champions League or Europa League this season, and Tavernier actually measures favourably next to Alexander-Arnold by several defensive metrics.

    Alexander-Arnold has made 1.9 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per 90 minutes to Tavernier's 1.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions, but the Liverpool man has been dribbled past every 54 minutes on average and won only 48.2 per cent of his duels. Tavernier has been dribbled past every 150 minutes and won 56.3 per cent of his duels.

    Those numbers will perhaps regress a little next season if Tavernier is playing in the Champions League, but he has to get there first by beating Frankfurt. And Rangers will likely be more concerned by their right-back's attacking output on Wednesday than his work going the other way.

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