The Portland Trail Blazers expected drastic changes this season in comparison to 2020-2021. While this team does look significantly different, it hasn’t been in the way that fans were hoping. Through 29 games last year, the Trail Blazers were at 18-11; in 2021-2022, they’re limping at 11-18 — and the disappearance of Dame Time has been a huge factor in the team’s struggles.
Aside from their atrocious road record at 1-11, a big detractor for the team this season has been their inability to perform in the clutch — or the closing minutes of a tightly contested game.
In 2020-2021, teams feared entering the last five minutes of a close game against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Last season, Portland led the league in clutch net rating at 27.4, meaning the Blazers outscored their opponents by over 27 points per 100 possessions when it came to crunch time.
The Portland Trail Blazers have missed Dame Time and are struggling heavily in clutch minutes because of it
Their defense could certainly be better in these minutes, bleeding at a defensive rate of 113.2. The real issue, though, is their complete meltdown on the offensive end of the court when the game is up for grabs.
This season, their offensive rating in the clutch is only 92, tied for fourth-worst in the league with the New Orleans Pelicans. Only the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, and Detroit Pistons have flailed harder.
This can be attributed to a number of things: poor offensive execution, injuries to Dame and CJ McCollum, or Billups’s weird tendency to bench the hot hand, among other things. The most imperative reason, though, has been Lillard’s poor performance in what usually is dubbed as Dame Time.
In 40 total clutch minutes played this year, Dame is averaging just 2.3 points per game on a horrid 27 percent shooting from the floor and just 13 from 3-point land.
Compare that to last season, when Lillard was putting up 4.8 clutch points per game on a stellar 51 percent from the field mark and 39 from deep.
Normally, when it comes to winning time, the Trail Blazers can count on Dame to just create offense for himself and others and carry the team past the finish line. This season, though, it seems like Billups will have to get a little more creative when games are tightly contested in the closing act.
This play came after a timeout, with the Trail Blazers down six to the Minnesota Timberwolves and desperately needing a bucket. Billups drew up a very simple action to get Lillard and Larry Nance Jr. in space for a give-and-go screen. Patrick Beverley quickly sniffed it out and forced a turnover.
Sometimes, simplicity is best, especially when you have a closer as great as Damian Lillard on the team. Other times, though, a little more complexity is needed.
This is what Billups ran on the next timeout; different, but not really. While it did result in a bucket, the play clearly broke down. Luckily, Lillard and Nance’s quick thinking were able to spin gold from… you know.
After timeout plays have not been a bright spot for Billups in his young coaching career — in fact, he controversially elected not to draw one up at the end of regulation in the next game against the Phoenix Suns, possibly costing the Trail Blazers a big win.
The team as a whole has played in 12 separate matchups that have qualified for clutch minutes. In those games, they have a record of 4-8.
Lillard has been slowly returning to form all season and was noticeably set back after sitting to rest his nagging abdominal injury. There’s no doubt that he will eventually regain MVP-level play and bring Dame Time back with him, but until then, the onus is on Coach Chauncey Billups and his teammates to pick up the slack.