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.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently barnstorming through Asia as a part of the adidas “Take On Summer” tour. He’s meeting fans, instructing young players, working on his dance moves and generally having a good time in one of the most basketball-obsessed places in the world.
But even though it’s already Tuesday in Asia, it’s still Monday here in the United States, which means Lillard has a new track to post on his Soundcloud account under his nom de rap “DameDOLLA.” And this week, it’s a freestyle featuring V.I.P., one of Lillard’s regular collaborators, entitled “Shook Ones”…
A few select four bars from Lillard’s latest offering…
Last of a dying breed and they’re taking me for granted
I represent the ones working for it, nothing handed
The world is all backwards. How we lazy and demanding?
We ain’t working towards dreams we’re just working towards mansions
I see my people struggle when they still don’t ask for nothing
We always gonna keep it solid, I know when the times are toughest
I know when they gonna be fine and i know when to give them something
Don’t ever try to finesse me, I know when a sucker bluffing
Good stuff. “Shook Ones” is just the latest of Lillard’s growing number of tracks, which include Soldier In The Game, Full Stomach, Why?, Free Bands, The Villains and last week’s Isley. All of these tracks and more can be found on Lillard’s Soundcloud page.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”