PORTLAND, OREGON – Damian Lillard couldn’t believe when he got a clear look at the rim.
With the final buzzer about to sound, he took his shot.
“I got my feet squared up and it felt real good leaving my hands,” Portland’s point guard said. “Once I saw it on line, I said, ‘That’s got a chance.’”
Lillard’s shot fell and the Trail Blazers stunned the Houston Rockets 99-98 to take their playoff series in six games and advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.
In the frenzied postgame celebration, Lillard took the public address microphone and shouted “Rip City!” The hometown crowd roared.
Portland, making its first playoff appearance since 2011, had been eliminated in the first round in its last six trips, and hadn’t advanced to the second round since 2000.
“It’s a great feeling,” said fellow guard Wesley Matthews. “I’m excited for Portland, of course excited for us. The grind of the season: You’re a competitor, you want to win, you want to play, you want to advance, you want to be a champion. … It’s unbelievable.”
Dwight Howard made four consecutive free throws to tie the game at 91-91 before making a bank shot that put Houston ahead with 3:04 to go. Robin Lopez scored on a tip shot to give the Blazers a 94-93 lead with 2:15 left, setting up a wild finish.
Howard’s layup and foul shot put the Rockets back up 96-94 before Nicolas Batum’s fadeaway jumper tied it again with 39.9 seconds left. Chandler Parsons scored on a reverse layup with 0.9 seconds left to give Houston the lead.
Lillard prevented the series from going back to Houston with his 3-pointer as time ran out. He finished with 25 points.
The Trail Blazers said Lillard is the first player to make a buzzer-beating shot to win a playoff series since John Stockton’s 3 that led Utah over Houston in 1997′s Western Conference finals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“He made a hell of a shot,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of Lillard.
Portland will face the winner of the series between San Antonio and Dallas.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 30 points and 13 rebounds. He averaged 29.8 points during the series.
After losing the opening two games in Houston, then claiming one of a pair in Portland, the Rockets staved off elimination with a 108-98 victory on Wednesday night to narrow Portland’s advantage in the series to 3-2. Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Jeremy Lin redeemed himself from a poor performance in Game 4 with 21 points off the bench.
James Harden led the Rockets with 34 points. Howard added 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Mavericks 113, Spurs 111
In Dallas, Monta Ellis scored 12 of his 29 points to lead a fourth-quarter comeback, Dirk Nowitzki added 22 and the Mavericks forced a seventh game in their first-round series with top-seeded San Antonio.
Eighth-seeded Dallas bounced back from consecutive losses by handing the Spurs their first road defeat when leading after three quarters this season.
Tony Parker scored 22 to lead San Antonio, which went 4-0 against Dallas in the regular season.
Nets 97, Raptors 83
In New York, Deron Williams scored 23 points, shaking off a second-half injury, and the Nets forced a seventh game in their first-round series by beating Toronto.
Despite appearing to hurt his left foot or ankle early in the third quarter, Williams dominated his matchup with Kyle Lowry and helped Brooklyn put it away with a 3-pointer with 1:13 left that made it 92-79.
DeMar DeRozan scored 28 for the Raptors.