The fans were going one step beyond delirious. It felt as if the entire Moda Center was shaking. Damian Lillard’s mother was dancing wildly on the sidelines. Trail Blazer players were staring at each other in awe with that “Did you see what he just did?” look on their faces.
Kevin McHale, doing analysis Tuesday night on the TNT telecast, uncoiled his 6-11 frame from behind a desk on the side of the court and shook his head.
Did that look familiar to you, Kevin?
“Well,” he said with a broad smile, “it’s a lot more entertaining to watch him do it than to have him do it to you.”
McHale was the coach of the Houston Rockets on May 2, 2014, when Damian Lillard sent McHale’s team home with a buzzer-beating three-point jump shot after catching an in-bounds pass with .9 second to go in the game.
But what he saw Tuesday night was even more miraculous. Incredible. Unbelievable – you pick your own adjective.
Lillard dribbled most of the final 18.4 seconds of a tie game down to tenths before firing up what was officially called a 37-foot pullup jump shot over Oklahoma City’s Paul George, one of the best defenders in basketball.
And of course, as you know by now, with the game and series on the line, the ball went in – setting off an on-court pig pile of teammates, who happily buried their captain under a mountain of sheer joy.
Asked about the distance and nature of the shot, most of the Trail Blazers estimated around 40 feet.
And most of them also commented on the sheer intestinal fortitude it took even to attempt the shot with the game on the line.
The word “balls” was used in connection with that.
And by the way, those three points gave Lillard 50 for the night and capped a wild Portland comeback that saw the home team rally from a 105-90 deficit with 7:45 to go in the game and 113-105 with 3:55 left.
There were so many things that happened down the stretch. Seth Curry stole the ball from George, CJ McCollum hit a pullup jumper and a floating bank shot, Maurice Harkless made a couple of free throws, Al-Farouq Aminu had a big rebound off a Russell Westbrook miss, Lillard hit a reverse layup – but, of course, it all came down to Lillard at the end.
With a tie game, the Blazers didn’t exactly need a three-point shot. Any old point would close out the series.
But Lillard was in his comfort zone as he dribbled the clock down.
“I didn’t want to put it in the referee’s hands, where it was contact and maybe they get away with contact or I end up having to take a tougher shot because there’s contact and (the referees) don’t want to decide the game,” he said. “So I was standing there looking at the rim and I was like, this is a comfortable range.
“My trainer, Phil Beckner, we were working out the other night in OKC and he was like, ‘just take a few deep ones off the dribble. Let’s shoot a few deep ones.’ He was like, ‘I’m telling you, you’re going to hit one of these.’
“When I was standing there, I was like, ‘I’m going to, shoot it.'
“I just had to let it fly, shoot the ball high in the air to give it a chance and that’s what I did.”
And there was one last parting shot after that.
Not with the basketball, though. Lillard, who had to take trash talk from Westbrook and Dennis Schroder throughout the five-game series, waved at the Thunder bench.
“I mean, the series was over,” Lillard said. “That was it. I was just waving goodbye to them. I think after Game Three, Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist. They were out there doing all these celebrations and doing all this stuff and we kept our composure. After one win, that was what they decided to do and we were like, OK, what we want to do is win four games.
“When we win those four games, there’s not going to be nothing to talk about.
“So that’s what it was.”
Lillard’s 50 were a franchise playoff record and he is the first player in NBA history to score 50-plus points and make a game-winning buzzer beater in the same playoff game. His 10 three-pointers mark the second-most threes in a playoff game in league history, just one behind Klay Thompson’s 11 in 2016.
The Blazers, who closed the game on a 26-8 run, move on to a second-round series against the winner of the Denver-San Antonio series, which the Nuggets lead 3-2.
Enes Kanter, who played much of the game with what he believes may be a separated shoulder, marveled at Lillard’s performance.
“Not just that shot, but the whole series,” he said. “He did an amazing job. He kept his coolness and stayed calm.
“That’s what a great leader does. He made himself better and he made everyone better around him. When the shot left his hand, I was like, ‘You know what, that’s going in,’ because we all believe in him.”
It was a special night nobody there will ever forget, especially the Thunder, I would guess.
“I mean, it was a bad shot,” George grumbled. “I don’t care what anybody says, that’s a bad shot.”
Maybe for you. Maybe for anyone else on the planet. But on this night, it was a great shot for Damian Lillard.
And as his coach, Terry Stotts, said, “The legend grows.”
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