Where were you when Damian Lillard became a Rip City legend?
No matter what happens from here, the Blazers have another player to put next to Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, LaMarcus Aldridge, and others whose names are inexorably linked with Portland.
No, Lillard hasn’t played nearly as long as any of them.
But in 0.9 seconds, he changed the direction of the franchise.
I was there.
Having followed the Blazers all my life, I had never followed them so closely as this year, where not only was every game watched, but every game was analyzed, picked apart, reduced to the sum of its parts.
I remember 2000, but only vaguely. I remember them being in the Western Conference Finals, but I only remember their epic collapse through YouTube videos that sting me to my core on each view.
More than that, I remember the years of futility that preceded those few years of post-first-round play, and the years of futility after.
What happened tonight was a miracle. There’s no other way to to put it. There are no other words that could describe it.
With 28 seconds left, the Blazers corralled a rebound with the game tied and would have had all the time in the world to run whatever they wanted to run to get a score.
Instead, the officials signaled that Lillard stepped out of bound. The replay disagreed, as did every Blazers player, coach, and fan, who were furiously twirling their hand above their head in the NBA parlance for “let’s go to the tape and check this thing.”
But the refs did no such thing.
And Lillard didn’t take all too kindly to that. No sir.
Even though Houston missed the ensuing possession, they got the offensive rebound with almost no time left and put it back up and in.
Game over, right?
Lillard knew better. Lillard knew that 0.9 was an eternity. Lillard also knew a little something about right-to-left fading threes, having nailed one in the closing moments of the third quarter of game 4 to bring the Rockets’ lead from 8 to 5, the catalyst for a slow Blazers run that pulled them even, and took them into an overtime in which they eventually prevailed.
Lillard is a bad mother supper, for lack of a better (and socially acceptable) term.
When the shot fell, I almost passed out. Not metaphorically passed out, but like actually passed out passed out. I was screaming and laughing and hugging strangers and high-fiving men and women and boys and girls and clutching my head in my hands and staring at my partner like an absolute loon.
I never heard that they were even reviewing the play. All I heard was the crowd erupt even louder when someone (who turned out to be Lillard) said something (which turned out to be “Rip City”) in the PA microphone. I was lost. I was gone. I was out of breath and out of emotion, for just moments earlier, I was thinking that if I weren’t in standing room only behind the 300 section, surely I would risk arrest by running onto the court and giving the refs a piece of my mind for not reviewing that play where Dame was pretty clearly in bounds.
But none of that mattered.
The Blazers were going to the second round. And all of us, all 20,000+ of us, were one with one another.
It was as unforgettable of an experience as I’ve had, within or without sports.
As for the game, LaMarcus Aldridge dominated the first three quarters before being held in check, but his 30 points and 13 rebounds were needed no matter how you slice it. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both had 12.
But tonight’s hero is Lillard, who was 6-10 from deep and 8-14 overall for 25 points, and just seemed to hit absolutely positively every three he took.
Let’s just say that feeling lasted until the end of the game.
The Blazers get a little bit of time to bask in the afterglow, after which they will take on either the Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs. After this series, either team looks like somewhat of a blessing.