Damian Lillard Game Winner Lifts Trail Blazers over Pistons in OT

Dec 15, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings (7) defends Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) during overtime at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Blazers won 111-109 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After a game that looked very much like the Blazers were on the second game of a back-to-back on a 4-games-in-5-nights road trip, the Blazers gutted it out and secured the victory off a miracle Damian Lillard sliding jumper in overtime to beat the Detroit Pistons 111-109. The win gives the Blazers a 21-4 record and keeps them atop the competitive Western Conference.

Recap

The first two quarter were mostly forgettable, and the two teams more or less played each other to a standstill. Detroit was determined to pound it inside, and while the Blazers did have an 11-point lead early in the second, it never felt secure. Josh Smith took turns abusing defender after defender, as Portland tried multiple defenders on him (Batum, Matthews, Lopez) with limited success: when the Blazers went big, Smith used his superior footwork to get free. When they went small, he pounded it inside and drew some questionable whistles.

It should be said that it was a pretty tightly-called game, and that many of those calls favored the home team. I’m sure not sure how dropping your shoulder and charging into a defense means that the defender fouled you, but that’s the kind of game it was. The Pistons put on a run, and lead 51-50 at the break.

Detroit came out determined and focused in the third, and the Blazers’ energy was noticeably flagging. Josh Smith had 7 points in the third and the Blazers were down 11 when Stotts called a full timeout with 4:41 left in the quarter. Things were looking pretty grim, and what I guess passes for a home crowd in Detroit (the arena was probably at less than 50% capacity) were into it. Needing a run, the Blazers managed no better than battled the Pistons to a standstill, yet again, and Portland found themselves down 11 going into the fourth.

Detroit stretched it to as much as 13 early in the fourth, but a Blazers timeout with 8 and a half left in the game turned the tide. A Batum layin, a Williams drive, and a Batum three cut Detroit’s lead to four and forced a timeout of their own just two minutes later. Some back and forth had the game close in the final minute, and Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews made 3 of 4 to tie t with 30 seconds left. Both teams had chances to win it, but neither capitalized, and the game went into overtime.

Dec 15, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) makes the game winning shot in overtime to defeat the Detroit Pistons 111-109 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit struck first in the extra period, but Portland laughed last. Lillard had 8 of his 23 points in overtime, none more important than the twisting, falling away jumper he put up to win it. It’s tough to describe the move that lead the game winner, but I’ll do my best: Lillard uses a half-hearted Aldridge screen to get some space between him and Rodney Stuckey and maybe could have had a contested three; he ignored that, using some hesitation dribbles instead to cut left and met Stuckey at the free throw line; finding himself cut off, he spun to his right hand and found his footing just inside the elbow, jumping off his right leg and fading for the jumper that found the right side of the rim and fell in.

Stuckey was right there with him, and viewing replays showed less than a couple of inches separating a Lillard game-winner from a Stuckey block. An absolutely incredible shot from an amazing player who stepped it up when it counted.

Players

What can you say about LaMarcus Aldridge? Many times Stotts has said that “you can pencil him in” for 23 and 10, and tonight was no exception. He had some drier spells, but he was the Trail Blazers’ stabilizing force around which their offense is able to function. Aldridge went for 27 and 12 with 3 blocks and 2 assists.

Damian Lillard has been really, really good in the clutch. His 8 overtime points were all critical, of course. He was also 4-4 from the line in the extra period. And this was after a lackluster offensive game. He still finished with 23 points and 7 assists with 3 steals. Good players battle through bad games to make an impact, and Lillard’s been doing a lot of that lately. His 11-12 from the line was also noteworthy.

Nicolas Batum had one of those sneaky-good games with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. He shot 7-13, and was just fine with letting others get theirs, but was available when the Blazers needed him.

Wesley Matthews had a poor shooting night, going 5-13 for 14 points, but he chipped in 5 rebounds, a few assists, and a steal. As much as he’s a disruptive force on defensive, he also is a tone-setter for the rest of the team when their energy drops. It’s tough to see anyone else but Wesley at the 2-guard spot at this point, after an entire offseason filled with rumors involving him.

Mo Williams, speaking of disruptive forces,  definitely commands the opposing team’s attention if nothing else. He only shot 3-10 for 8 points, but all 8 came in the decisive fourth quarter when the Blazers fought their way back into it.

Robin Lopez did his thing, taking up space and playing hard for his 12 points and 13 rebounds. There were a few questionable calls on him that otherwise would have been great defensive plays.

Random notes

  • According to Chris Haynes: “LaMarcus Aldridge says he was tired coming to game. Says if there was one more defensive possession in that game, he would have passed out.” Not surprising, as they were late leaving Philadelphia and late arriving to Detroit for an early game on a back-to-back. But Aldridge tired is better than most people at their best, apparently.
  • Blazers have as many road wins 25 games into the season (11) as they did all of last year.
  • Tonight’s win put Coach Stotts one game over .500 during his tenure with the Blazers. Here’s to seeing him go far, far beyond that.
  • The Blazers have the most wins in the NBA right now. They also have the most road wins.
  • The Blazers shot 7-26 (26.9%) from three, and lost the points in the paint battle 68-42. Pounding it inside is a huge part of Detroit’s game, so it’s encouraging that their outside shot can abandon them and the Blazers can still win.
  • When your friends ask, “…but are the Blazers for REAL?!?1?” show them this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 6.13.26 PM

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Topics: Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

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  • Chuck Moe

    Is this team really for real? Am I dreaming? If so, don’t wake me up. I don’t think the Blazers would have been able to come back last year. Their cool and calm demeanor was present all game despite struggling against their bigs. Never once did I feel that they didn’t have a chance. Amazing shot by Lilliard…just stone cold clutch.

    • Brandon Goldner

      Oh, they’re for realsies. They won’t be winning a championship this year, but this team has a lot of the things that Roy-led teams didn’t have to make a playoff push… most notably an adaptable coach who is better than just about anyone at making adjustments. This is in contrast to Nate McMillan, who was worse than just about anyone at the same.

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