Okay, it’s been long enough. I’m ready to talk about Damian Lillard’s performance last night, and how an all-time great individual playoff performance was all for naught as the Nuggets pulled out the double overtime victory. I’m sure you’ve seen the highlights by now, and if you’re lucky you stayed up and watched history be made, but if you somehow haven’t seen what Lillard did last night, watch it here:
For those of you keeping score at home, that is a 55p/6r/10a statline, the only of its kind in the history of the NBA playoffs. In nearly 52 minutes played, Dame went 17/24 from the field, including an absolutely insane 12/17 from three and 9/10 from the free throw line. Throw in three blocks, no fouls, and one turnover (in almost ONE HOUR of playing basketball, he turned the ball over once), and you have one of the most impressive stat lines in the history of basketball. However, that will not be what this game is remembered for. Instead, when I am old and grey, I will be telling my grandchildren about how Damian Lillard made not one, but two isolation contested threes with the game on the line.
It’s not like this is a new occurrence. Dame is well-known as the most clutch player in the NBA. As a rookie, he crushed the upstart Rockets hopes and dreams with one fadeaway three. Two seasons ago, he dismantled the Thunder with a ridiculous sidestep three and waved them goodbye. Last year, he relentlessly scored in the fourth against the Nets to secure a spot for the Blazers in the bubble play-in game. Not to mention the numerous other buzzer-beaters and game-winners he has had throughout his career. Simply put, he is built for those moments. So, if you’re Austin Rivers, or Aaron Gordon, or Michael Porter Jr., or Shaq Harrison, or any other poor soul the Nuggets threw at Dame to try and slow him down last night, you know this is the time when one of the best point guards in the league shines. Put a hand in his face, throw him off his spot, chase him off the screen, just do your job and he’ll slow down, right? Wrong. Dame Time is inevitable.
When a player is as hot as Lillard was last night, that typically makes the game easier for his/her teammates. More attention on the hot hand means more open shots, and more open shots should mean more points. Unfortunately, the rest of the Blazers roster appeared to forget this fact last night, all absolutely falling apart after a CJ McCollum three at the 13.7 second mark of the fourth quarter. Enes Kanter was the only Blazer besides Lillard to make a field goal in the entirety of the first and second overtimes, and that was less than a minute into the first. For the nine most important minutes of the season so far, all Blazers players with jersey numbers greater than "0" forgot how to play basketball. As frustrating as it was, it makes Dame’s insane achievements just that more impressive, but the only stat that really matters went Denver’s way as they now lead the series 3-2. With the West looking incredibly open, the winner of this series will immediately jump into the favorites to compete for a championship, and no one could step up when it mattered most to even moderately help Dame.
Going back to Portland for Game 6, the Blazers need to rip off two straight wins to stay alive. If you don’t believe this series is going to seven, I have bad news for you. CJ is going to come back and play lights out as he always does when people doubt him, Jusuf Nurkic will not (I am speaking this into existence) foul out with four minutes left in the fourth, and the series will go back to Denver for a winner-take-all. And in such a battle of a series, I see no reason a Game 7 won’t come down to a final shot, and who do you want on your team in that case? Blazers in 7.