Damian Lillard scored a historic 71 points in a 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26 at Moda Center.
That 71 was a career high for Lillard and a franchise record for Portland as Dame bested his own previous record of 61 points – which he’s managed twice.
It was the eighth-highest scoring performance in NBA history. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell hit that mark earlier this year.
Lillard hit 13 3-pointers, one shy of Klay Thompson’s NBA record for threes in a game.
He was 22 for 38 from the floor, 13-of-22 from deep, and 14-of-14 from the free-throw line.
But it was Dame’s message to his teammates the day before his memorable performance that set the tone.
Damian Lillard told his Blazers teammates “It has to happen now”
Per Jason Quick of The Athletic, Dame walked around the practice facility the day prior to the Houston game trying to find every teammate to deliver a message:
"It has to happen now. The urgency has to pick up. This is it.You have to verbalize it … a standard you have to have when you are speaking to your teammates to let them know: There’s no other option; this is what has to happen. Then you have to back it up with your energy. That’s always been what it is for me. I know I’m not just saying something to say it, and I’m not saying anything I’m not going to do. And then I’m going to go out there and do what I’m saying.’"
If Blazers fans didn’t know Dame was a man of his word before…
Prior to beating the Rockets, Portland was tied for 11th place in the Western Conference standings, just a half-game ahead of the 13th-place Los Angeles Lakers. On the flip side, the Blazers were only three games out of sixth-place and four games out of fourth.
While the outside world talks about tanking and lottery picks, Lillard’s message remains the same: Win a title, and do it in Portland.
The Trail Blazers are still 11th in the West, still on the outside looking in of the play-in tournament. But before Feb. 27’s slate of games, they’re also one game out of eighth and just 1.5 out of seventh, which would mean avoiding any play-in games at all.
“It’s like if we go on a run, we can get to five or four,” Lillard told Quick, “and it wouldn’t be crazy at all.”
It took Dame about 24 hours to back up part of that message to his teammates. How long will it take him to validate the rest?