Damian Lillard tried all day to get to the foul line. He took 20 shots without getting a free throw. But then, when he had two of them with 18.6 seconds to play, his team down by a point and the game on the line, he missed them both.
That was unbelievable.
As was the idea that the Trail Blazers were even in that spot. Portland led by five with 1:36 to go and the Clippers were playing with just one starter on the floor.
Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell didn’t even suit up. Paul George and Lou Williams did not take the floor down the stretch.
In the midst of a fight for the Nos. 8 and 9 spots in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers were handed a gift.
And declined it, losing to Los Angeles 122-117.
Nobody could quite believe Lillard missed both free throws.
“Very surprised,” CJ McCollum said. “But just like I told him, it shouldn’t even have come down to that. We’ve got to do a better job of executing and putting them away earlier. Especially, going against most of their second-unit guys -- we’ve got to do a better job.”
The Trail Blazers have fallen into a pattern in these seeding games of relying on a spectacular offense that has covered for a leaky defense. But in the late going of this game, Portland didn’t run its offense efficiently, got poor shots as a result, and didn’t get stops or committed fouls at the defensive end.
“I was disappointed with both ends in the last few minutes,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Defensively, we didn’t move around. Offensively, we didn’t get the shots we wanted, didn’t move the ball as well as we needed to and the shots we did get, we didn’t make.”
Lillard had given Portland a two-point lead with 41.2 seconds to go with a layup but the Clippers hijacked it at 26.1 with a three by Rodney McGruder -- a 27 percent three-point shooter for the season.
That set up Lillard’s empty trip to the free-throw line.
“They made the plays that we didn’t make,” Lillard said. “Every breakdown on the defensive end, they made us pay for it. They made shots, got rebounds and they got second and third opportunities.
“And then at our offensive end, we just didn’t execute very well. Once I got to the line, down one, I felt good about that, I said, ‘OK, we’re going to be up one.’ Come down, get a stop and then it’s a free-throw game.
“Left the first one short. And then left another one short. Sometimes, I guess that has to happen. Particularly at the end of the game, I always feel like I’m going to come up big. I’ve experienced so many of those moments. I guess sometimes you come up short.
“I left two free throws short. We lost a game we really needed to win and we’ve got another one tomorrow (against the Philadelphia 76ers).”
Both Beverley and George taunted Lillard at the end of the game.
“I didn’t see it, but I heard about it,” Lillard said. “That just shows what they expect from me down the stretch. They know what I do. (Beverley) saw it first hand when I was a second-year player and he was at Houston. I’m sure he has a great memory of that.
“PG had to wave, because he also was surprised because of what he experienced at the end of a game last year. Let me just say this, for one -- I know what happened. I expect myself to make those free throws. And I didn’t. The team needed it, which was a failure for me that I can accept.
“Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who I sent him home before at the end of a game, Paul George got sent home by me at the end of the playoffs. So they know their reaction is a sign of respect for me from what they expect from me at the end of a game.
“It just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. If anything, it should tell you how much it hurt them to know what I put them through in those situations.”
And don’t expect this to impact Lillard’s confidence level in similar situations.
“I’ve had some moments in my career when I was expected to do something at the end of the game and I didn’t,” he said “I don’t see myself as somebody who is going to hold onto it. I’m a shooter. I’ve been in these situations a lot and had some success. I’m in this situation all the time. It isn’t going to discourage me or make me any less confident. If anything, I’m looking at it like the next time, it’s going to go the other way,
“It bothers me. It hurts, because it was a game we would have loved to have. But as far as being on the floor and doing what I do, it won’t affect me at all.”