CLEVELAND — It was a phenomenal game that featured an epic matchup between the two most recent NBA Rookies of the Year.
It came down to the buzzer, but Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers got the best of Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavs.
Second-year pro Lillard had a season-high 36 points, tied his career high with eight rebounds and set a season high with 10 assists as the Blazers beat the Cavs 119-116 Tuesday in front of 15,689 fans at Quicken Loans Arena.
Lillard, the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, saved his best for last, hitting a 28-foot 3-pointer over Alonzo Gee with 0.4 seconds left to improve Portland’s NBA-best record to 22-4.
“Alonzo Gee is a great athlete,” Lillard said. “I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I couldn’t get a good look. On the perimeter, I knew I could get a good look.”
Lillard, who also hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in a 111-109 overtime win in Detroit on Sunday, got good looks all night.
He hit eight of 12 3-pointers as the Blazers, who improved to 12-2 on the road and 11-0 versus the Eastern Conference, went 15-for-33 from long range.
“There’s nothing to break down,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said of Lillard’s game-winning play, which began with the point guard receiving an inbounds pass above the arc with 7.1 seconds remaining. “Damian had it going. He missed four threes and those could have gone down. He had a special night.”
Making the night a little more special was that it came against Irving. The No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft scored nine points in 60.2 seconds, then drove and dished to Anderson Varejao for the game-tying hoop as the Cavs rallied from a late 10-point deficit, but Lillard got the last laugh.
“When you’re playing against a top point guard, you really don’t have a choice but to bring it, especially with a guy like him that’s in attack mode on the offensive end and is so effective,” said Lillard, who was 11-for-23 from the field overall. “If I don’t put my best foot forward, he could go out and beat my team by himself on a good night.”
Lillard, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder from Weber State, basically filled that role against the Cavs. He calmly dribbled above the arc with the 6-6 Gee defending, then rose up and scored at the buzzer.
“Cold-blooded,” Cleveland guard Dion Waiters said. “That was a big-time shot.”
“Hindsight, you push up, but it’s tough in that situation,” Cavs coach Mike Brown added. “He’s a very good player and he’s more than capable of dribble-driving by you and finishing. Their last game in Detroit he drove by somebody and shot a pull-up. He’s a very good player, so you pick your poison.”
After a video review of Lillard’s game-winner, 0.4 seconds were put back on the clock, but Irving’s 42-footer bounced off the rim.
“They left just enough time for us to run one last play,” Lillard said. “We’ve been able to find a way to get it done.”
Irving, who has six game-winning shots in his NBA career, finished with 25 points on 9-for-22 shooting (3-for-7 on 3-pointers), three rebounds and 10 assists.
The Cavs were down 116-108 before he hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 to go — he converted a three-point play at the 33.8-second mark and then fed Varejao to tie the game — but Cleveland come up just short of stealing a big victory.
“Absolutely,” Irving said when asked if the Cavs expected Lillard to take the last shot. “That’s what all great players want — the last shot. … Big-time players make big-time shots. He hit one in our home, but we just have to learn from it and keep it moving.”
In the most entertaining game played at The Q this season, the Blazers also got 26 points, 15 rebounds and four assists from power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, 19 points from shooting guard Wesley Matthews and 14 points (on 3-for-13 shooting) and nine boards from small forward Nicolas Batum.
Cleveland (9-15), which lost its second straight after winning five out of six, got a stellar performance from Waiters, who went 11-for-19 from the field while finishing with 25 points, three rebounds and five assists.
Tristan Thompson added 15 points and seven rebounds, Jarrett Jack had 12 points, five boards and four assists and Andrew Bynum had 13 points and nine rebounds, but didn’t score or attempt a shot in the second half.
“It was an offensive shootout,” Portland’s Stotts said. “Both teams had it going.”
Portland, which began the night averaging a league-best 107.9 points, poured in 37 points in the third quarter to turn a four-point halftime deficit into a 92-88 lead.
Waiters had six points in a 9-0 Cleveland run to start the fourth period, and a great game that featured 23 lead changes and 11 ties got even better from there.
Portland’s 3-point shooting was aided by its 56-44 edge on the boards, which led to a whopping 35-10 advantage in second-chance points.
That’s why the Cavs lost on a night when they scored a season-high 116 points in regulation and totaled 26 assists with a season-low six turnovers.
“The blatant thing we got killed on was the boards,” Irving said.
“That’s the game right there,” Waiters added.