This time, it would be Lillard’s turn to come away victorious, hitting a game-winning three-pointer, his second game-winning shot in as many games, to lift the Trail Blazers to a 119-116 victory Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“Damian had it going,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “He missed four threes and those four could have gone in, they were all right on line. He had a special night. I thought it was appropriate he finished it like that.”
After the Cavaliers tied the game at 116-116 with a little over seven seconds to play on an Anderson Varejao layup off an acrobatic drive and dish from Irving, the Trail Blazers called a timeout to draw up a play and advance the ball to midcourt. Nicolas Batum would inbound the ball to Lillard, who was matched up with lanky forward Alonzo Gee, near the halfcourt line.
Rather than driving the lane as he did for his game-winner against the Pistons on Sunday, the second-year guard would take a few dribbles before elevating for a jumper well behind the three-point line.
“I didn’t want to get into the paint too deep because I know they got some giants in there — they altered a lot of shots tonight,” said Lillard. “Alonzo Gee is a great athlete so I didn’t want to put myself in position where I couldn’t get a good look. On the perimeter I knew I could get a good look so I just gave him a move to kind of get him off balance to where he would try to get ready for me to blow by him. As soon as I seen him try to get ready and froze a little bit I just rose up.”
Lillard’s shot would find the mark as time expired, though on review, the officials put 0.4 seconds back on the clock, giving the Cavilers one last chance to send the game to overtime. But Irving’s heave at the buzzer careened off the rim and the Trail Blazers escaped with their 22nd victory of the season.
“That’s what all great players want, the last shot,” said Irving of Lillard taking the game-winning shot. “And that’s what he did, big-time players make big-time shots. He hit one in our home, but you just have to move on to the next game.”
“I think Lillard pulled up about five feet behind the three-point line,” said Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown. “That’s a tough situation to be put in. He hit some tough threes. Hindsight, you push up, push up, push up, but it’s tough in that situation. He’s a very good player and he’s more capable of dribble-driving by you and finishing. Their last game in Detroit he drove by somebody and shot a pull up (jump shot). He’s a very good player so you pick your poison.”
The reigning Rookie of the Year would set a career-high in three-pointers with eight and finished the night with 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and just three turnovers. He became the first player since Jason Kidd in 1995 to finish with at least 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and eight three-pointers.
While Lillard was on fire from the start, the Trail Blazers got impressive performances from both LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with what both he and Stotts called a “quiet” 26 points, 15 rebounds, and Joel Freeland, who pulled down seven rebounds, five on the offensive glass, in 27 minutes filling in for Robin Lopez, who played just 20 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I’m just there trying to be ready and step up when I get the opportunity,” said Freeland. “I had the opportunity tonight so I was there trying to fill his role and help the team defensively as much as I could. That’s my job. I’ve got to offensive rebound as much as I can and I try to do it to the best of my ability.”
Despite going up against a large Cleveland frontcourt which featured Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson and Varejao, the Trail Blazers were able to out-rebound the Cavs 56-44.
“I knew that they like to crash the boards with Varejao and Thompson and Gee and Bynum out there.,” said Lillard, who tied his career-high in rebounds. “They can really rebound the ball. I just wanted to be down there and help the bigs because I knew they had their hands full keeping those guys off the boards and there would probably be some rebounds floating around. So I just wanted to try and get as many of those that I could.”
Portland’s work on the glass, which resulted in 35 second chance points, gave them an opportunity to come away the victory despite allowing Cleveland to shoot better than 50 percent from the field for most of the game.
“I’m surprised by how important our second-chance points and our offensive rebounding is,” said Stotts. “We do a good job. LaMarcus and Joel and Robin are always active on the offensive glass. I think one of our strengths, not only our tips, but kicking it out for three’s. That’s been a big part of our offense actually is coming up with those second chance points.”
The Trail Blazers have now won five-straight and nine of their last 10. They lead the NBA in victories with 24. It is also the first time in franchise history that the Blazers have won their first 11 games against Eastern Conference opponents. Their 12-2 road record is the best in the NBA and ties a franchise-best through 14 road games.
Portland won’t have much time to celebrate, as they travel to Minneapolis tonight to take on the Timberwolves Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 PM.
“It’s the end of a road trip, it’ll be tough,” said Lillard. “We’re on another team’s floor, a good team. In the past, us playing there, we build big leads and they get back into the game, but it’s going to be a fight. We’ve got to go get some rest tonight and get focused for it.”