Damian Lillard, for the second straight game, came through just like every Blazers fan knew he would. His 30-foot three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the Blazers a 119-116 win over a spirited and determined Cleveland Cavaliers team led by Kyrie Irving’s 25 points and 10 assists. LaMarcus Aldridge game the Blazers his usual MVP-level contribution: 26 points, 15 boards, 4 assists, a block and a steal on 50% shooting. Wesley Matthews shot 3-6 from deep for 19 points, Nicolas Batum had 14 and 9, and Mo Williams kicked in 9 points and 6 assists off the bench.
The All-Star and MVP talk in Portland as of late has been focused on LaMarcus Aldridge, as well it should be. He’s averaged 25 and 15 in his last five games, and 26 and 13 in the month of December. He’s been their go-to player, AND their steady source of offense, AND the main beneficiary of teammate Robin Lopez’s help-the-team attitude on the boards. His 26 and 15 would be the story of the night on most other nights.
But this wasn’t most other nights. With that, we go back to Damian Lillard and his “Cassel-sized balls” (special thanks to Bill Simmons for that one).
Has anyone ever seen a player so calm, cool, collected? Even Mick Jagger probably couldn’t say for certain, but let’s put it this way: Lillard has been so clutch that cars use him to shift. He’s shot 15-30 from the field and 8 of 16 from three in clutch situations this year (defined by NBA.com as the last five minutes of the game with either team leading by 5 or less), and shot 90% from the line. Those 15 clutch field goals is tied for most in the league, and his 8 threes are tops.
Two nights ago, Lillard’s spinning, twirling, whirling dervish of a sliding jumper gave the Blazers an overtime victory over the Pistons in Detroit who, by the way, went and handed the then-league-leading Pacers their first home loss of the season the very next day.
Tonight, he stuck one from so far out that ESPN’s play-by-play didn’t even know what to call it, writing that with 0.0 left on the clock, “Damian Lillard makes 30-foot.”
Yup. A 30-foot. It just stands alone, because it was too long to be a shot, right? It wasn’t a make. Or a basket. Just a 30-foot.
In a fourth quarter that served as a nice microcosm for the game itself, with the Blazers up a little, then down a little bit more, then up a little bit more only to blow the whole thing in the final two minutes, the end of the game also served as a nice microcosm for Lillard’s career.
When the Blazers were up two with 30 seconds left, they went to Aldridge, their rock, their All-Star. He took a little bit of contact and got a clean shot, which rimmed out. Can’t be too mad at that. But when the Blazers were tied with 6 seconds left, everyone knew who was getting it, and it wasn’t LMA.
When the Cavs tied the game and Portland took a timeout, I, like many Blazer fans, was a little frustrated that they pissed away a double-digit lead in 120 seconds. But I turned to my partner and said, so confidently it immediately made me nervous that I had jinxed something, “Lillard’s gonna get it, and he’s gonna shoot it, and it’s gonna go in.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
The shot capped an incredible night for Lillard, going up against fellow Rookie-of-the-Year (for 2012) and current Eastern Conference Player of the Week Kyrie Irving, and Lillard got the better of him. By far. Lillard’s line was silly: 8-12 from three for 36 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, and a block.
The Blazers are amid a 4-game road trip, and many said that the schedule would eventually catch up with them, that they had two back-to-backs and should consider going 2-2 pretty good. Maybe. Or maybe this year’s Blazers are just a different breed of animal. They’re a little like a hydra: cut off one head, and another one bites you. Cut that one off, and you find the first head grew back and is hitting on your girlfriend. They’ve been that good.
With the final game of the road swing tomorrow in Minnesota at 5 p.m. PST, the Blazers will put their league-leading 22-4 record against a 12-13 Timberwolves team that certainly expects a lot more from this season moving forward. In the “well, that’s not so bad!” column, we can point out that, thankfully, no Blazer played more than 38 minutes even in a game as close as this was. While it wasn’t the kind of game where the Blazers could rest their starters for an entire quarter like back in Philadelphia, and while the late-game collapse isn’t gonna fly every time, a thrilling win is a thrilling win. Let’s enjoy it.