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Caris LeVert goes for 37, but Nets fail to send Trail Blazers home: 134-133

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Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a strange game.

Devin Booker called his former teammate Tyler Johnson to make sure the Nets gave it all they got. Phoenix’s playoff hopes depended on it. So, the Nets did everything they possibly could to make it possible.

In the end, Portland led the Nets, 134-133 with timing running out. The ball was in Caris LeVert’s hands as you’d expect. CLV had 37 points and nine assists to his name. He brought the clock down, waiting patiently so he could end Portland’s season. He crossed left, hesitated, stepped back and put a little too much on his shot. No good and three NBA fanbases in Portland, Phoenix and Memphis went into a frenzy.

Asked about watching LeVert’s final shot, Blazer coach Terry Stotts said: “Hey, I trusted our defense.”

The room paused, according to Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Stotts then pulled down his mask and deadpanned.

“I’m SMILING.”

But that turned out to be the final score: Portland 134, Nets 133. If LeVert had scored 39, we’d be talking about a much different script. Instead, the Trail Blazers will get a play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Saturday afternoon while the Brooklyn Nets brace for the playoffs vs. Toronto on Monday.

“We’re a unique group and knew we had a lot to accomplish in order to keep the seven spot and get some momentum going into the playoffs. I think we did that. I am proud of this group for that,” said LeVert, relishing his role as a leader. “But the job is not done. We have a tough series coming up against Toronto and that is what we are looking forward to right now.”

“It was a perfect game for us (to prepare for the playoffs),” said Jacque Vaughn. “A close game. We talked about the progression going into the playoffs to get our guys quality minutes. Being a meaningful game where there was an outcome (that) we had a chance to decide. Very impressive effort by our guys, especially knowing that Portland had a lot weighing on this game. So, really give our guys a lot of credit for battling all night.”

The Nets finish the regular season at 35-37 with a 5-3 record inside the bubble; 7-3 total under head coach Jacque Vaughn and 9-4 since March 1.

Brooklyn had nothing to play for. They were in. Booker called Johnson to ensure that the Nets played hard, but that was not necessary. Under Vaughn, the Nets were always going to compete — and it showed in the box score.

Instead of lying down and resting his stars, Vaughn played all Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple 37 minutes each, while LeVert played 34. It was a tune-up for the playoffs.

Allen finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds - his 30th double double of the season. Harris finished with 19 points, including one 3-pointer, giving him at least one three in 60 straight games. Temple recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds - his second career double double, both this year.

But the big numbers belonged to LeVert. He shot 15-of-29 overall, garnered six rebounds and handed out nine assists. He missed four of his five 3-pointers but made all four free throws. It was his fifth-career game with 30+ points (all this season and two in the “bubble.”

Post-game, Damian Lillard made it clear that he and the Blazers respected Brooklyn ... and LeVert.

Dwayne Wade agreed in a post-game tweet...

Early on in the second half, LeVert went heroic. He led the Nets on an 18-3 run to give the Nets a seven-point lead, later extending into a 26-8 run and a 10-point lead. The Nets out-scored Portland 37-24 in the third, and the nerves could be felt from Orlando to Brooklyn to Phoenix and up to Portland, Oregon.

Then, Lillard showed us why he isn’t playing around.

The half court heave brought Portland within four with 10:27 remaining in the game. Lillard finished the night with 42 points and 12 assists, despite Brooklyn blitzing him every chance they got, whether it was off a pick-and-roll or whether it came the second he crossed half court.

This is where things changed.

The two teams found themselves in a seesaw battle down the stretch. Dame’s offense wasn’t the only thing that saved the day, rather his defense. With his team up 132-130, Lillard took the ball right out of LeVert’s hands and into a CJ McCollum mid-range jump shot. Two possession game, 53.4 seconds left.

LeVert wouldn't go away, though. After a couple of offensive boards, he hesitated, drove right and finished an and-one on Jusuf Nurkic to bring Brooklyn within one. Carmelo Anthony missed on the ensuing possession and Portland’s fate rested in his hands.

Luckily for them, he missed when it mattered most.

“As far as the shot, I just kind of read the defense. I feel like they were playing the drive – I’ll have to watch it again. But those are the types of shots I practice each and every day. I will live with that shot. As far as the matchup – Dame (Damian Lillard) right now is playing the best basketball in the world,” said the 25-year-old.

“Obviously that is a matchup that I am going to take serious and we took serious coming into the game as a team. He did what great players do.

Former Sun Tyler Johnson finished with 16 points off the bench. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot chipped in 19 in 32 minutes, including 5-of-9 from from three. The two have been the anchors for Brooklyn’s bench mob. In fact, it can be argued that TLC had a breakout in the “bubble”, finishing with a shooting line of 50/40/90 and a scoring average of 14.8 points along with 4.5 boards.

The Nets were extremely active on the offensive end, dishing out 28 assists on 53 made field goals. They also hit 14-of-33 from deep, good for 42.4 percent. They did, however, turn the ball over 14 times and miss six of their 19 free throw attempts. In a one-point game, that’s brutal.

The Nets played with only 11 active players. Jamal Crawford (hamstring), Donta Hall (ankle) and Chris Chiozza (abductor muscle) were all out. Dzanan Musa didn’t play.

Temple, as the team’s veteran voice, summed what he saw and what he could foresee.

“I think the sky is the limit. The continuity that we’re playing with ― I think this is the way that we need to play,” said Temple. “Obviously with KD and Kyrie, they’re very adept in iso situations when they need be, so we definitely have that ability. But they also can play in situations where the ball moves. Bringing those two guys back, as well as DeAndre, Taurean. It’s crazy when you think about what we don’t have here.”

And LeVert?

“It’s our job. We have a lot of pride in this locker room. There are a lot of professionals in this locker room. We have a lot of guys who were overlooked and take it personal. We hear all of the noise people are saying. We were supposed to go 0-8 or whatever it was. We come to work each and every game and take pride in what we do. We go out there and make winning plays. Obviously we wanted to get that win tonight, but hats off to Portland. They played a great game.”

SEAN MARKS CHECKS IN WITH MICHAEL GRADY

DRAFT PICK WATCH

It’s official. After the last day of games, the Nets will have the 19th and 55th pick in the Draft. That’s as of now. Last year, at the end of the regular season, the Nets had 17, 27 and 31 and wound up with 31 and 55.

For a different perspective, head on over to Blazers Edge, our Trail Blazers sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: The playoffs! The first game will be against the Raptors on Monday at 4:00 PM EST. The first three playoff games will all be afternoon affairs.