By Harry Allison
The Sixers showed the heart of a lion last night in Portland but heart wasn’t enough.
C.J. McCollum converted a three-point play with 7.6 seconds left to break a tie and lift the Blazers to a 108-105 win over the Sixers.
Trapped in the corner near the sideline and the midcourt line, McCollum split two defenders, drove through the lane and hit a layup as he was fouled and stumbled to the floor, helping the Blazers avoid another embarrassing loss to the NBA’s worst team.
McCollum finished with 25 points and five assists. Al-Farouq Aminu matched his career high with 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Blazers, who lost by 25 at Philadelphia on Jan. 16.
Down by as many as 16 early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers rallied to take a 100-97 lead with 3:10 to go behind a 13-0 run, capped off by consecutive 3-pointers from Hollis Thompson.
”I just felt like they played better than us to come back,” said McCollum, who also tied his career high with five steals. ”We didn’t do a lot of things well, but we did enough toward the end of the game to withstand their run and finish them off.”
After falling behind, McCollum turned in a three-point play, followed by a Sixers turnover and a 3-pointer by Lillard to put Portland back in front with 2:36 remaining.
Another 3 by Thompson with 1:26 to go made the score 104-103, and after Maurice Harkless made one of two free throws for Portland with 46.5 seconds left, Ish Smith (above) tied the game with a 15-footer with 23.4 seconds left, setting the stage for McCollum.
Jerami Grant missed a pair of free throws with 7.2 seconds left, and the Sixers were unable to foul to stop the clock.
”You walk away feeling like we could have stolen a win on the road,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. ”I’m thrilled with their effort.
Smith had 17 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and nine assists. Thompson and Robert Covington also scored 17 for the Sixers, who have lost eight straight and 19 of 20.
Harkless had 16 points and eight rebounds for Portland, Lillard finished with 16 points and seven assists. Gerald Henderson added 11 points off the bench.
Grant scored 13 for the Sixers, and Carl Landry had 12. Nik Stauskas added 13.
F-C Nerlens Noel missed his second consecutive game with a right knee injury. Brown said before the game that Noel will also sit out Sunday at Golden State. … Reserves Richaun Holmes and Sonny Weems left the game after each played 6 minutes and did not return. Holmes strained his right Achilles and is doubtful for Sunday; Weems strained his right quadriceps and will be re-evaluated Sunday.