Upon further review… a look back at the Trail Blazers’ whipping of the Oklahoma City Thunder in a series that took just one more game than a sweep:
What I can’t get over from the Tuesday game – and probably never will – is the audacity it took for Damian Lillard to even take that final shot from 37 feet.
I mean, Damian had a choice of how he wanted to beat the Thunder and there was plenty of time to do whatever he wanted.
He could take it to the basket and either score or get fouled. He could drive, pull up from anywhere from 15-20 feet and nail a jumper.
He could even drive, then draw the expected double or triple team and dish off to a wide-open teammate.
But no. That was not going to be good enough this time. It was time to make a bold statement.
This was a guy getting knocked down, pushed around and taunted for a few days who could have blown his cool and sunk to the level of his OKC tormentors.
But that wasn’t good enough punishment for them. He wanted more. He wanted a non-violent exclamation point so he could end the series the way he started it in Game 1 – with a gutsy, long-distance bomb. A haymaker. A knockout punch that would hurt long after the pain subsided.
During the emotionally charged series he very likely took inspiration from a famous quote from “The Art of War” that he posted on his Instagram account:
It is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who wins, not the hothead seeking vengeance and not the ambitious seeker of fortune.
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This shot was like when you get mad at somebody for trying to punk you in a one-on-one game on the playground and want to show him that he picked on the wrong person.
You don’t go get that layup you know you can get. You go out there by the edge of the grass where guys park their bikes and stand around watching.
You go out there in the weeds and finish him off with stoic disdain. You calmly cut his heart out by doing something that shows courage beyond what was necessary. Beyond all belief, really.
You do it because, deep down, you know you can. And you know something else, too:
Actions speak louder than words.
In this case, those actions screamed so loud they could have been heard not just in Portland, but all over the NBA. This wasn’t trash talk, it was REAL talk – but with action and not words.
This was REAL, unaccompanied by chest-pounding, screaming, pulling his shirt off, jumping on the scorer’s table or anything but a wave at the vanquished Thunder and hugs from his family.
And it had to hurt the losers more than any clever trash talk the Trail Blazer guard could have come up with.
That shot was for you, Russell Westbrook, for even dreaming that all those triple-doubles you had to stuff in your bag after the game last night matter as much as real leadership and the ability to make big shots --- or in Westbrook’s case, any shot.
And this one was for you, Dennis Schroder. You’re from Germany and perhaps you have never heard that famous American cliché that you don’t poke the bear. And you don’t mock people who are better than you.
And this one was for you, too, Paul George. You played a great Game 5 and probably played it in pain. But you’ve been hanging around Westbrook too long and he’s pulled you into that alibi, excuse-making abyss that can keep you from owning – and learning from – your failures. And you thought that was a “bad shot”? You know by now that players in the NBA take all kinds of crazy, contested shots – you have a teammate who does that. But when they go in, you shut up and accept it. Great players make great shots. You’ve made a few yourself.
And when somebody of the stature of Damian Lillard does it, you shake his hand, ask yourself why you weren’t up in his grill and even wonder why your coach didn’t run another player at him – in hopes of getting the ball out of his hands.
What we saw Tuesday night in Moda Center was so special, a basketball happening that you can never even dream of seeing again – unless Lillard finds a way to do it (which wouldn’t surprise me at this point).
Nobody in NBA playoff history had ever scored 50-plus points and had the game-winning buzzer beater in the same game.
And talk about audacity… there have been dozens of buzzer-beating, desperation shots from all over the court. There have been off-balance leaners, lucky rolls, full-court prayers answered and amazing shockers.
But has anybody ever intentionally run the clock down to take a 37-footer at the horn, with seemingly no thought whatsoever about how that would have looked had he missed it?
I don’t think so. This one was incredibly self-assured.
And for me, someone who has been following high-level athletes around for several decades, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. And it showed me one more time the power of sports.
The City of Portland awoke Wednesday morning feeling pretty good about itself. Even those who don’t frequently follow the Trail Blazers were forced into learning what all the fuss is about. And this town, going through a time when it can’t come together on how to solve all sorts of social issues, found a common ground.
And this team is well on its way to becoming the nation’s basketball darlings, the lovable underdogs who persevere in spite of injuries and adversity. The team that just slayed the bad guys and lives to fight another day, led by a man who stands tall, fights the good fight and serves as a symbol of what pro athletes should be.
This is what Damian Lillard did Tuesday night. And he did it the way he wanted to do it.
And probably the way you would have wanted to do it, if you could.
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