The seconds are ticking off the clock.
It’s a three-point game.
Damian Lillard’s tough floater gets blocked.
Al-Farouq Aminu snags the offensive rebound and puts in a 9-foot bank shot.
Four seconds remaining on the clock when the Pistons call a timeout.
It was a crazy finish on Saturday night in Portland. It’s Aminu who seals the deal in a Trail Blazers gritty win over the Pistons by a final score of 117-112.
Chief comes up CLUTCH! pic.twitter.com/KVMHT8wHOw— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) March 24, 2019
“I knew the shot clock was low, so I just wanted to get it off the glass. I didn’t want to rush it. Sometimes when you’re in that predicament you rush it because you’re thinking you’re going against the clock and I figured, let me at least make it and see if it was late or not,” Aminu said with a smile.
Portland continues to play without CJ McCollum (left knee) and continues to rack up wins from a collective effort with role players continuing to step up.
Saturday night was Aminu’s night.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame he was pleased with Chief’s “heads up playmaking,” which is a perfect way to describe that last Trail Blazers possession.
Aminu finished with a season-high 22 points and has now reached double figured for the second time in the last three games. His previous high was 20 points, which he had reached twice this season.
Is there a variable to Aminu’s game that people aren’t talking about when it comes to him getting more buckets?
How about his ball handling skills?
Coach Stotts has no doubt that this is one aspect of Chief’s game that has changed this year.
“I think it’s pretty obvious -- his ball handling has really improved this year. He’s made some nice drives throughout the season. He put a lot of time into it. He’s making some nice moves, whether it’s in transition or in the half court. I think he’s being aggressive when he has a chance,” Stotts said.
As Lillard shouldered the scoring load once again, leading the Blazers with 28 points and nine assists, he couldn’t agree more with his coach when it comes to Aminu’s improved dribbling.
“A lot better,” Lillard said of the difference he has seen of Aminu’s ball handling from this year to years past. “Sometimes when he catches it and they close the gap where he can’t get a shot off, he’s putting it on the floor and making plays to the rim. You know, sometimes in transition, he’s bringing the ball up and we’re getting a quality possession out of it, so it’s not like guys gotta chase the ball down and try to go get the ball or when he doesn’t have a shot, we’ve got to rush to get the ball,” Lillard added.
Lillard also believes the mental part of Aminu’s game has helped too.
“When your mind is in the right place and you’re doing all these things, doing whatever you can for the team-- good things happen and he was on the good side of things, just because he was in it. He was in it mentally and it worked out. He was huge for us. He pretty much made all the big plays for us,” Lillard added.
Having your coach and teammates confident in you is always a helpful, but Aminu also trusts himself to it bring the ball up the court or drive hard to the rack.
“It’s a thing that when you’re in the game and you notice that you’re not losing the ball… Obviously, you’re going to go to it more. The confidence comes from doing it… Just glad that it’s working,” Aminu said.
Being able to score a season-high after exerting so much energy on the defensive end with the difficult task of defending Blake Griffin also was noted postgame.
Maurice Harkless, who scored in double digits for the fourth straight game with 10 points, gave props to Aminu and how valuable he was on both ends of the floor.
“He made a lot of big shots, especially down the stretch. He played really good defense on Blake and when we got switches he played good defense on the guards too, so he was huge for us. That last rebound and putback was big time too. It kind of sealed the game,” Harkless said.
Aminu had his good luck charm in the front row too. Maybe having your wife sit baseline can help boost the confidence as well.