Lillard Game-Winner Advances Trail Blazers to Second Round

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

PORTLAND — After 14 years, the wait is finally over.

Damian Lillard hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired to push the Trail Blazers past the Rockets 99-98 in Game 6 of the Western Conference playoffs.

“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said Lillard, who finished the game with 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 shooting from three. “Mo and Wes did a great job of trying to screen and I was able to break free and I got my feet squared up and it felt real good leaving my hands. Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”

With the win, the Trail Blazers advance to the second round for the first time since 2000, ending the longest active Western Conference streak of playoff futility.

“I’ve been here so long, I definitely know this city has been waiting for this type of moment, this night, for a long time,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think they’re probably still cheering in their cars and at their houses. This city loves basketball and to give them this type of series and give them a shot like that to end it, they love it. They’ve been behind us the whole season. They believe in us.”

With less than a second to play, it looked as though the series was going to head back to Houston for a Game 7. And as exciting as the series has been, no Trail Blazer, let alone their fans, were interested in enduring a win-or-go-home Game 7 on the Rockets home court. But that looked like the direction the series was headed after the Rockets took a 98-96 lead off a Chandler Parsons putback with 0.9 seconds to play.

“I think I can speak for our entire team – when Chandler Parsons made that layup with 0.9 seconds, everybody was like ‘Man, we have to go back to Houston,'” said Lillard. “I told LA the first thin I did after he made it was look to the other end at the clock to see how much time was left. I knew we would get a shot off. I didn’t know what the quality would be of the shot, but we got as good of a look as we was going to get.”

Portland called a timeout to advance the ball, though the Rockets would call a timeout of their own after assessing Portland’s formation. It wouldn’t help though, as no amount of scouting, preparation and scheming was going to keep the Trail Blazers, a team that has shown themselves to be supremely confident in their ability to overcome any obstacle, no matter how formidable, during the court of the first-round series.

As soon as the officials blew the whistle to start play, Lillard charged hard from the other side of the court to collect the inbounds pass from Nicolas Batum. Despite Lillard’s reputation as one of the most clutch shooters in the NBA, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who was responsible for checking Lillard, was slow to pursue. Lillard came open while curling toward Batum, clapping his hands in an effort to get the point across that, even though Aldridge was the first option, he would was ready to take the shot.

“It was either LA or Damian coming up,” said Terry Stotts of what he drew up for the last play of the game. “You try to have two looks. To be honest, I didn’t think Damian would come that open. LA was probably the first look but Dame came wide open. So it was one of the two looks.”

Parsons was able to make up ground as Lillard received the pass from Batum and squared his shoulders to take the shot, but the 6-3 guard from Weber State has shown time and time again in his two NBA seasons that he needs only the slightest peek at the rim to crush opponents dreams in crunch time. Lillard elevated roughly two feet behind the three-point line and got a shot off with roughly 0.4 seconds on the clock that hit nothing but net as time expired, sending the Moda Center into complete hysterics.

“(Lillard) lives for those moments,” said Stotts. It looked good when it left. It’s remarkable. It was a remarkable shot.”

Lillard’s game-winner was reminiscent of Brandon Roy’s game-winner against the Rockets on Nov. 6, 2008, though the stakes this time were far, far higher, prompting at least one Trail Blazer who was on the team at the time of Roy’s winner to declare that Lillard’s game-winner was the new leader in the clubhouse.

“Since I’ve been here, all the respect I have for (Brandon Roy), this is No. 1,” said Batum. “B.Roy moved to No. 2 now. B.Roy’s was a huge shot, but this one, we passed the first round with that shot. We’ve been waiting for that for six years, LA for eight and this team, this city for 14 years. So yeah, that’s going to be No. 1 like, maybe in Blazers history. One of the best shots in Blazers history.”

To be in the position to win the game, the Trail Blazers needed huge fourth quarter contributions from their bigs, primarily Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson.

Lopez scored eight of his 12 points in a four minute stretch in the fourth quarter during a time in which Portland’s offense seemed to grind to a halt. While he couldn’t completely negate Dwight Howard’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance, his timely makes were the only thing keeping the Trail Blazers in the game late in regulation.

“Sometimes, when you’re an offensive threat, you can flip it on like that,” said Lopez in the best deadpan he could muster after such an exciting victory. “My teammates had a lot of faith in me and that will put the ball in the bucket sometimes.”

As for Robinson, who said it was “sweet as cake” eliminating one of the teams that traded him during this rookie season, he played just 16 minutes and logged eight points, three rebounds and a steal but provided a boost of offense and energy by either assisting or scoring Portland’s first three buckets of the fourth quarter.

“It was big for my team,” said Robinson. “What I had to get used to this year was doing the things that were big for my team. So that’s all I try to do is be big for my team. My personal accolades and my personal achievements will come later. I’m two years in. So for right now, I’m on a winning team, on a great team playing behind a legend, so I’m just going to embrace this moment.”

That “legend” Robinson is referring to is Aldridge, who led the way and kept the Trail Blazers afloat with 30 points and 13 rebounds.

“I was definitely trying to take more shots, find my rhythm and try to get us going early,” said Aldridge, who scored 21 points in the first half. “Coach told me that he was going to come to me early and I wanted to get us off to a good start, because I know when I put pressure on the defense, it makes everybody’s job easier.”

Now, the Trail Blazers turn their sights to the next job: playing either the Spurs in San Antonio or the Mavericks in Portland in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

“Once the shot went in and I knew the series was over, the crowd was so into the game,” said Lillard. “I think our whole team really wanted to get it done for them, not only ourselves, our group in the locker room but for the crowd because they show up so consistently for us. They were with us. The whole series, they were with us 100 percent. I felt like they deserved to be rewarded.”

Show Comments

VIDEO: Phantom Cam Recap And All 12 Of Lillard's Game 4 Field Goals

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The Trail Blazers have arrived in Memphis for tomorrow’s Game 5 at FedExForum (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM), wherein they will try to extend their postseason by getting their first road win of the series.

But before we completely turn the page on Game 4, let’s look back at some of the highlights, if for no other reason than it was the first time during this series that the Trail Blazers turned in a performance worthy of repeated viewing.

First, there’s the phantom cam highlights, which recaps Game 4 in super slo-mo. Damian Lillard’s spin move past Tony Allen and Beno Udrih, which he followed up by finishing with a reverse layup while absorbing contact from Marc Gasol at the 50 second mark has to be one of the best plays of Portland’s 2015 postseason.

Here’s the Vine of that Lillard spin move finish for easier repeated viewing…

And on the topic of Lillard, he scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting in Game 4, which prompted the NBA to put together a package of all of his field goals Monday night. They also tossed in two of his game-high seven assists for good measure.

Show Comments

VIDEO: Phantom Cam Recap And All 12 Of Lillard’s Game 4 Field Goals

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The Trail Blazers have arrived in Memphis for tomorrow’s Game 5 at FedExForum (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM), wherein they will try to extend their postseason by getting their first road win of the series.

But before we completely turn the page on Game 4, let’s look back at some of the highlights, if for no other reason than it was the first time during this series that the Trail Blazers turned in a performance worthy of repeated viewing.

First, there’s the phantom cam highlights, which recaps Game 4 in super slo-mo. Damian Lillard’s spin move past Tony Allen and Beno Udrih, which he followed up by finishing with a reverse layup while absorbing contact from Marc Gasol at the 50 second mark has to be one of the best plays of Portland’s 2015 postseason.

Here’s the Vine of that Lillard spin move finish for easier repeated viewing…

And on the topic of Lillard, he scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting in Game 4, which prompted the NBA to put together a package of all of his field goals Monday night. They also tossed in two of his game-high seven assists for good measure.

Show Comments

Trail Blazers Look To Get Damian Lillard Going

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The first two games of their first round series versus the Memphis Grizzlies have been rough for the Trail Blazers, particularly for Damian Lillard. While no Blazer has played particularly well thus far, Lillard’s struggles have been the most noticeable, especially when contrasted with his performance in last year’s first round matchup against the Rockets, a series that culminated with the 6-3 guard out of Weber State hitting a now legendary Game 6 series-winning three-pointer as time expired.

While his Game 6 performance is the most enduring memory of that series, Lillard was spectacular through all six games. He averaged 25.5 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and a ridiculous 49 percent shooting from three while also adding 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebound and 1.3 steals in a hefty 44.7 minutes per game (you may recall that three of the six games went to overtime). The Spurs had much more success slowing him down in the second round, holding him to just 17 percent shooting from three, though he still shot 41 percent from the field and averaged almost 20 points and just over six rebounds before the Trail Blazers were eliminated by the eventual World Champions in five games.

Flash forward to today and one imagines Lillard would be happy to play as well as he did against the Spurs, let alone the Rockets, versus the Grizzlies. Shooting just 27 percent from the field and a perplexing nine percent from three, the third-year point guard lamented after practice Friday afternoon that the Grizzlies’ defense has been all but impenetrable through the first two games.

“It’s been tough,” said Lillard. “They do a really good job of clogging up the paint, keeping a lot of bodies in the paint to where it’s kind of uncomfortable being down there because they’re playing physical and they’re playing really good team defense. You’ve got to give them credit, but the good looks I do get, I’ve got to make those shots. I just haven’t made shots.”

Lillard, along with the rest of the team, has studied film in an effort to figure out way that he might get himself going heading into Game 3 Saturday night at the Moda Center. He may try to get the ball up the court quicker and look to set up his teammates more often in an effort to make the game easier for everyone involved.

“Watching film, I see a lot of times where even if they’re crowding up and there’s not a shot for me, there’s times where I can make plays for other guys,” said Lillard. “There’s always adjustments I can make. Using screens better, picking spots better, pushing the tempo. It’s really hard to score on them in the halfcourt when their defense is set, so just trying to create better opportunities, maybe make more plays so they loosen up on just trying to control me so much. Just make the game easier for myself.”

But even though there are areas in which he could better exploit what little the Grizzlies are giving him, if he’s not able to make the shots that he typically makes, be it in the playoffs last year or the regular season this year, no amount of changing up is going to make much difference.That’s why, even though you’re likely to see Terry Stotts try a few new things to get Lillard going, it’s unlikely that wholesale changes are going to be implemented. That would be impractical and also foolish, as much of what the Blazers are doing are the same things that worked well in the past, including against the Rockets in last year’s playoffs.

“We’ve done somethings, we made some adjustments between Game 1 and Game 2, different sets,” said Stotts of what he and his staff have done to try and help Lillard find his offensive rhythm. “He’s missed some good shots. A lot of the shots he’s made over the course of his career, he’s had, so you don’t want to over-analyze and do things — we’re doing a lot of the same things that have gotten him to this point. The ball is going to be in his hands, we’ve looked at different things. But ultimately, the one thing is — for everybody, not just Damian but everybody– passing the ball, finding the ball on the weakside, creating opportunities for your teammates to get easier shots. I think that lends itself to more rhythm at the offensive end.”

Portland will need that improved rhythm, and a steady dose of shot-making, if they’re to best the Grizzlies Saturday night for the first time in their last six tries. If the Trail Blazers managed to get there offensive going and still lose, they’ll know that the Grizzlies are simply a better team on both sides of the ball. But if they can somehow shake off two disappointing offensive performances to take Game 3, they’ll give themselves a chance to repeat their success against the Rockets last season rather than mimicking their failures versus the Spurs.

“We haven’t been down in a situation like this where we haven’t played well,” said Lillard. “Last year against the Spurs we lost the first three games but in that series we were making some shots, they just outplayed us. Now we’re struggling on the offensive end. It’s different but it’s a new challenge. I think we should be excited to have this opportunity because it seems like everything is going downhill. ‘Do they have a chance?’ It’s an opportunity for us to rise up again. They won the two on their court, now we’ve got to try and take it one game at a time and take care of our home court and see where it goes.”

Show Comments