Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Sweep hooks, yells and The Answer: Remembering my first NBA game on its 20th Anniversary 

Many of us don’t have the luxury of knowing when our first NBA game was. Either our parents don’t remember, or the ticket stub has been lost, or there were too many to mark it as unique. Today many arenas around the league have special areas dedicated to kids getting special swag while attending their first game, usually with a sticker, a sign, or some kind of trinket. Kids in 2019 will have photo or video record of their first game uploaded to social media where it will live on Facebook’s servers until our sun goes supernova.

That’s why I feel lucky enough to know the exact date of my first game. It was March 21, 1999, exactly 20 years ago today. It came during a lockout-shortened season when and Allen Iverson, in his third season in the NBA, would lead the league in scoring for the first time. Iverson, who was battling hip soreness and was questionable heading into the game, led his Philadelphia 76ers into the Rose Garden for a sleepy 3:00 PM game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Both squads were battling for playoff position in their respective conferences, with that Sunday’s game representing the halfway point of the shortened 50-game season. The matchup would turn out to be an odd affair, with Iverson and Matt Geiger scoring for the 76ers with little help from their teammates. It would take a herculean effort for Portland to pull ahead, with Greg Anthony annoying the future scoring champ Iverson, batting away steals and jumping passing lanes to the tune of a 31-point Blazers fourth quarter.

Portland would get the win, 95-71, in what now might be looked at as a laughably late-’90s NBA score. All this was witnessed by a crowd of 19,980, including a 10-year-old Dane Delgado sitting right behind the Philadelphia bench in Section 103, Row B, Seat 4. I was there with my friend Jacob Davis, his cousin Cory, and his father Bob, who had secured the tickets through his work.

This 20 year anniversary was a special moment for me, and thanks to our friends over at the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest was able to secure the entire video broadcast of the game. It’s not often in our lives we get to relive one of the critical moments of our childhood in its entirety, with the full production value that comes with an NBA broadcast.

So I decided to watch my first ever NBA game, with my own face in full view on the left edge of the backboard during every possession at the north end of the floor. I had eyes on this game once as an adolescent, and now I have it as an adult — as someone who covers the NBA and this team for a living, no less. It felt like there might be some treasure left to unbury from the video archives at the start of Iverson’s NBA, so without further ado, here’s some of the takeaways from re-watching my first game two decades later.

There’s too many post-ups

Watching this game got to be sort of a joke after a while, particularly from perspective of how the offense works in contrast to today's game. The modern NBA has shifted in the past few years in the amount of 3-pointers taken, but having seen some old games before it also surprises you how few common actions are missing from a game like this just 20 years ago.

The pick-and-roll is absent, at least on scale, and although the point guard revolution from 2008-2012 has passed us by, the two-man game is a staple in 2019. That didn't appear to be the case in this 1999 matchup, with no more evidence being clearer than in this play early in the first quarter. 

If this play was run in 2019, you might expect Damon Stoudamire to run across screens on the weak side, receive a pass in front of the Blazers bench, then move into a sideline pick-and-roll with Arvydas Sabonis. Instead, he wastes five seconds of shot clock trying to get an entry pass so Sabonis can hit his patented sweep hook. 

After watching this whole game, Portland tried to post up nearly every single player on their roster outside of Stoudamire. By contrast, Philadelphia's game plan was to give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. 

Are NBA players bad at basketball?

As this game opened, I remember thinking in 1999 that these two teams were not as good at basketball as I was hoping. Watching game film back, it appears they might have been feeling a bit lethargic on a mid-afternoon game on a Sunday. Here's what the first 2:30 of gameplay looked like from a play-by-play standpoint. 

PHI — Missed 19-foot jumper

POR — Turnover, Iverson scores

POR — Sabonis scores on a sweep hook 

PHI — Missed 17-foot jumper

POR — Rasheed Wallace point blank miss

PHI — Missed Iverson 3-pointer

POR — Missed point blank Stoudamire layup

PHI — Missed Matt Geiger hook shot

POR — Wallace airball

It got better from there … at least for Portland. The Sixers wound up scoring just 75 points in the game.

Local TV legends

The old Blazervision had Bill Schonely and Ann Schatz calling this game, not to mention the late Steve “Snapper” Jones as the color man during the actual broadcast. Everything about the production —  particularly in the three-dimensionality of the intro —  screamed 1999. If a graphic could have a gradient on it, it did, and that went the double for the local television ads that ran during the breaks (the Northwest Ford Store and Godfather's Pizza ads were something else). But check out this intro.

Greg Anthony went HAM on Iverson

Greg Anthony averaged double-digit points once in his career, adding 14 PPG in 1995-96 when he was with the Vancouver Grizzlies. Anthony was a career backup, and the athletic, annoying, pestering guard had the capacity to aggravate star players from opposing sidelines.

Anthony was the saving grace for the Blazers in this game, and boy did they need it. The teams combined for 30 points in the third quarter alone, and despite playing with a nagging hip ailment, Iverson was on his way to scoring big points heading into the fourth quarter.

The pesky 30-year-old was everywhere, helping to force Iverson into four turnovers including during a stretch run midway through the fourth that helped Portland contain the 76ers to 16 points.

These performances in front of kids are the things that make uneven impressions, and no doubt I forever gave Anthony too much credit as a defensive mastermind. The reality is that Anthony was a career -0.4 defensive box plus/minus player, although 1999 was one of three positive DBPM seasons for him.

To me he was The Guy Who Shut Down Iverson until I was around 20 years old.

Rick Mahorn yelled at me after the game

Rick Mahorn (seated) watches a play in Mar. 21, 1999. The author sits behind him (white hat, second row behind the railing).

Rick Mahorn was a Bad Boy with the Detroit Pistons, winning the 1989 NBA Championship and taking home all-defensive honors in 1990. The Bad Boys were badasses, and not to be trifled with in an era where physicality and brute force were more accepted as part of the game.

So perhaps I should have expected Mahorn to yell at a 10-year-old Dane Delgado?

Because of where our seats were located, behind the Sixers bench and to the right of the visitor’s hallway, we were able to move to the railing where players from Philadelphia were signing autographs at the conclusion of the game. Jake's dad had given me a Sharpie and the in-arena magazine to collect signatures, but I had never done that before and I was less than confident.

At the railing, I failed to recognize anybody outside of Matt Geiger. Iverson was gone, and not knowing what the protocol was but seeing everyone else leaning over the railing with pens and paper, I simply did the same. 

Eventually Mahorn made his way to my outstretched Sharpie and looked in my direction. A pregnant silence filled as our eyes met, and the forehead of the 40-year-old bruiser slowly wrinkled. My childhood pal Jacob Davis described the moment from his point of view in a recent phone interview with NBC Sports Northwest.

"He turned and looked to you, and you just sort of held [the magazine] out to him," laughed Davis. 

Maybe it was wanting to defer to an adult, or maybe it was shock from the sheer size of the 6-foot-10 Mahorn standing just feet away from me, but I didn't dare utter the first word. Perhaps it was his duty to say something as the player (and I as a child)? It's been two decades and I still haven't decided who was in the wrong. In either case, Mahorn didn't bite, so I doubled down. 

"Then you just held it out to him again — very imploringly — it was very obvious what you wanted," said Davis.

The air hung between us, and eventually Mahorn practically spit the words at me. 

"What?! You can't talk?"

Mahorn then walked away, taking a couple steps before eventually realizing his error and returning back to the stricken grade schooler. Mahorn took the issue of "Rip City" magazine that Bob had brought for this occasion, dutifully signing the photo of Blazers guard Jim Jackson before issuing me some advice about speaking up and asking players directly.

Rip City Magazine from March 1999.

"When he came back, he was like 'Ah, I'm sorry," said Davis.

As I walked back to Jake and his dad, they looked at me expectantly.

“Who’d you get?”

I looked at Jacob, then at Bob, then back at the magazine. I studied the lines on the cover, trying to read each squiggle letter-by-letter to read it out. Finally, I gave him the answer about the signature from the NBA player who yelled at me for not being able to talk.

“... I don’t know.”

To this day I still can’t find that damn magazine.

Rick, if you’re reading this — I need a replacement autograph. This time I'll be sure to ask directly.

Scoop Journal: April 23rd – a night we won’t ever forget

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NBC Sports Northwest

Scoop Journal: April 23rd – a night we won’t ever forget

Welcome to The Scoop Journal, where every week I empty my notebook of wide ranging Trail Blazer thoughts, observations, and randomness. I hope you enjoy this light-hearted weekly blog...

April 25, 2019

Dear Scoop Journal,

I started jotting down my random Trail Blazers notes in my Scoop Journal at the beginning of the 2018-19 season and now here we are in late April and the season is not over.

It’s really just beginning… At least that’s the feeling around Portland. 

Now that I have had a couple of days to digest what went down at Moda Center on Tuesday night, April 23, with Damian Lillard having arguably the best performance of his career after dropping 50 points and hitting an insane, 37-foot three-pointer to clinch the series over the Thunder, I think it’s time to write in my journal again.

My latest Rip City thoughts as the Blazers advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the 12th time in franchise history and the first time since 2016:

*THIS JOURNAL ENTERY is going to be one I will look back on fondly and often!

*My initial thought when Lillard rose up and fired over Paul George as time was expiring was – OHH MY GOD, are you kidding me!? And then… the celebration in Moda Center began!  

*The Trail Blazers dogpile celebration was also one for the ages.

*These were some of favorite postgame quotes from Dame:

“That was the last word. I was having the last word.”

“I thought this was a comfortable range”

*And then there was this gem from CJ McCollum:

“I didn’t know he was going to raise (up) from 40. I was like ‘Go! Go!’ Then he raised from 40 and I was like 'That’s a bad ... you know what I said.”

* There have been a total of six walk-off, series-winning buzzer beaters in NBA history. Damian Lillard and Michael Jordan are the only two players with multiple ones. YEP… NO BIG DEAL.

*It was fun listening to all the different radio and TV calls from around the world. Kevin Calabro and Brian Wheeler both had phenomenal calls on the game winner, but I also have to give it up to the Korean radio call too --- “Dame Time!!!!”

*I don’t think Rip City will ever forget the Thunder’s antics and the “next question” feud between Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel or the fact that Paul George called Lillard’s game-winner a “bad shot.”

*It was an extra special night on Tuesday with Jusuf Nurkic making his first appearance at Moda Center since his leg injury. I believe wholeheartedly that he was the good luck charm the Blazers needed in the final minutes of that game.

*Now, we wait and see.

*The Blazers will either face the No. 2 Denver Nuggets or the No. 7 San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals. The Nuggets lead that first-round series 3-2, with Game 6 set for Thursday night in San Antonio.

*Time now to focus on Round Two!

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Damian Lillard on Paul George's 'bad shot' comment: He's "kind of being a poor sport...If anything, it was bad defense"

Damian Lillard on Paul George's 'bad shot' comment: He's "kind of being a poor sport...If anything, it was bad defense"

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has ice in his veins. Lillard’s buzzer-beating, 37-foot 3-pointer over Paul George that sent the Thunder packing has been all the talk around the NBA in the last two days.

George didn’t think it was a good shot, though.

"That's a bad shot,” George said postgame. “I don't care what anybody says. That's a bad shot. But, hey, he made it. That story won't be told, that it's a bad shot. You live with that."

On this week’s ‘Pull Up Podcast,’ hosted by Trail Blazer shooting guard CJ McCollum, Lillard joined the podcast to respond to George’s comments:

“It was a good shot.

I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the moments. That’s because they’re not the ones that’s there. I literally work on those shots. And I don’t work on it so I can just come out and just shoot it for the whole game. I work on it just because, over my career, I know how much attention I’m going to get from defenses.

So it’s just like you’re just keeping stuff, adding more things, adding more and more, keeping stuff in your pocket, in case these types of situations do present itself. Even if it’s not something you want to lean on, it’s something that you have there, that you worked on, you spent time doing. So, you’ve got confidence in it when the time does come. That’s why, when I was just standing there, I was like, well, it’s probably not good in a lot of people’s eyes.

But I’m comfortable with this, and I’m confident in this. So, to me, it’s a solid shot.”

Lillard also added that George was, “just kind of being a poor sport” after the loss:

“For him to say that’s a bad shot, that’s just kind of being a poor sport. If anything, it was bad defense, because I had the ball in my hands with two seconds, and I wasn’t going to drive, so maybe he should’ve just bodied up.”

One thing is certain -- Lillard is built for these moments and Rip City is still rejoicing in the “good shot” heard around the world.

You can listen to the full ‘Pull Up Podcast’ right here.

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Outsiders Blog: Will it be the Spurs or will it be the Nuggets

Outsiders Blog: Will it be the Spurs or will it be the Nuggets

On Tuesday night Damian Lillard drilled an improbable 37-foot step back jumper over Paul George to give the Trail Blazers the walk-off victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

It was a game winner. It was a series clincher. It was the thing movies are made of. In a series where Oklahoma City's rallying cry seemed to be "next question," they really should have been worrying about Lillard's next shot. 

"The Shot," as it will probably go down in Blazers lore, sent Oklahoma City home and sent Portland to the second round. Now the "next question" on everyone's mind is, who will the Blazers play? Will it be the Denver Nuggets or the San Antonio Spurs? We could know as soon as Thursday night. 

Denver leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 in San Antonio. You know the drill - Denver wins, they move on. San Antonio wins and we have a winner take all Game 7. 

So who do you want the Blazers to play? Each team has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Denver: The Blazers lost the season series to the Nuggets, 3-1. However, the Nuggets' three wins came by a combined total of just 13 points. That's just 4.3 points per game. Get a few extra spots, hit a couple extra buckets, and the Blazers win those games.  With no Nurkic, Denver's Nikola Jokic will be a major problem. He is a triple-double threat any time he takes the court. Can the Blazers subdue Jokic and take the Nuggets down, I think they can. But it will be one tall task. 

San Antonio: The Blazers split the season series with the Spurs, 2-2. San Antonio has played well in this series against the Nuggets, but winning it in seven would certainly be an upset. The Spurs could have been up 3-0, but they let Game 2 slip away, then the Nugget blew the doors off in both games four and five. San Antonio can be an up and down squad. If they're up, they can beat almost anyone. If they're down, they can lose to anyone. The Blazers match up very well with the Spurs, making this a favorable series for Portland.

Verdict: Give me the Spurs. First, the storyline of LaMarcus Aldridge versus the Trail Blazers in the playoffs is fantastic theater by itself. But the reality is the Blazers are a much better team than the Spurs. I just don't know if DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge can outplay and outscore Lillard and CJ McCollum over a seven-game series. Throw in the fact that Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless are playing their best ball of the season, and I think the Blazers are easily favored to beat San Antonio. I think the Nuggets are beatable too, but the Spurs would be better odds. But let's be real, real honest. It doesn't matter who the Blazers play. After two straight first-round sweeps getting a taste of the second round again is oh so sweet. 

Bring on the Spurs.
Bring on the Nuggets. 
Bring on the second round.

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Why Damian Lillard's game-winning shot over the Thunder could be the thing that holds the Blazers together

Why Damian Lillard's game-winning shot over the Thunder could be the thing that holds the Blazers together

There was less than a second left. Nine tenths of a second, to be exact. To the right of me was Portland writer Mike Acker. To my left, Dustin Hawes, then a member of the Portland Trail Blazers social media team. Stationed at the top of the 100 level, directly behind the Blazers basket, we stood braced for what would become the biggest moment for the franchise since winning the NBA draft lottery in 2007.

Then it happened. The whistle blew, the play began. Streaking across the 3-point line, open by a margin so wide it had to be a mirage, was Portland’s star point guard. He clapped three times, caught the ball, and released.

After the leather found the net, and the horn sounded, the adage of “there’s no cheering in the press box” was thrown out the window. This was no time for decorum. It was time to hug, embrace, and jump. First with Mike, then with Dustin. Then back to Mike. It felt like it lasted forever, even though it happened in the blink of an eye.

But this? This was bigger.

Damian Lillard’s shot on Tuesday night to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and send the Trail Blazers into the second round was a massive moment for this franchise. Whatever we are going to call it — The Shot 2.0, The Wave, The Bad Shot, 37 — we have to recognize what it means for the Blazers to advance to the next round in this fashion.

Lillard has cemented himself as one of the top point guards in the league, both with his offensive prowess and his ability to come up big on defense. Driving to the gym on Wednesday morning, I found myself switching the dial back and forth between multiple national radio broadcasts. Each deep, hair-gelled voice was talking about the Blazers, Lillard, the wave, and the shot. It was surreal. 

But all this attention belies the fact Portland was in a bad way heading into this season. 

After being swept by the New Orlean Pelicans last year, the team seemed on the verge of flying apart, the centrifugal force of the churning NBA season too much for them to bear. 

These playoffs, the very ones that started just 10 days ago, held something potentially franchise-altering before they began. Latent beneath the surface was the fact that, if this postseason went like the two that came before it, things were headed for change in Rip City.

But, here the Blazers are. 

Terry Stotts, once a potential candidate to be released from his duties, now has the bargaining power to extend his stay with Blazers past his contract end date of 2020. Stotts has won two Coach of the Month awards this season, and those around the league hold him in high regard for his work in Portland. At this point, rather than deciding whether to keep Stotts, the team’s problem might be fending off other suitors impressed with his ability to adapt and gameplan in the postseason.

Now more than ever, it seems unlikely that GM Neil Olshey will field any offers for CJ McCollum, who slowly came on during the course of the season in his new role and was a big part of why the Blazers played so well against the Thunder in the first round. McCollum made several big shots down the stretch for Portland, and the Blazers no longer seem susceptible to a critical weakness being exploited.

The ripple effect from Lillard's series-ending shot continues on from there. With confidence in the backcourt pairing at an all-time high, so too is support for role players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Evan Turner. All of them contributed in one way or another on Tuesday, regardless of their impact on the box score.

And that's the real story of Damian Lillard's big shot. 

The history books will spin tales of his bold, 37-foot bomb. But the recovery of the Blazers to come back from a deficit, including an 8-0 run starting with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, was a team effort.

It was a hard close by Seth Curry on Dennis Schroder with 3:15 to go. It was Aminu coming over for what would have been a block on Westbrook when Lillard took a charge with 1:55. It was McCollum calling out the Thunder play with 1:30 so that everyone could react accordingly, eventually resulting in a Blazers rebound. It was Curry going for the steal and forcing a turnover with 1:13 on George.

Damian Lillard's shot is going to go down as one of the most incredible individual accomplishments in NBA history. No player has hit two game-winning shots to end a playoff series in NBA history. He has already written his own name into the annals of league lore. But Lillard’s shot casts a special light on the value of his teammates, and worked as a credit to his coaching staff. 

Yes, Lillard’s shot won the series. But it might also have saved this version of the Trail Blazers as we know them. Not even Damian’s shot against the Rockets had that big an impact. 

This Portland team is going to look different next season no matter what. Aminu, Curry, and Kanter are all major contributors who are not under contract next season. Stotts’ position is up in the air. Olshey’s deal ends in 2021. Which come back and which leave has yet to be decided, but beating the Thunder is a vote for the idea that, hey, this core might actually work. 

This team that has always been criticized for not changing enough from season to season. Now, ironically, things could stay the same more than ever, all thanks to one of the coldest game-winners in NBA playoff history.

That brings us back to 0.9, and the Houston series, and a core that Portland decided to eventually let go. In fact, Lillard’s 2014 shot came on the cusp of a team that did eventually break up. Just a year after 0.9, much of Portland’s roster was gone.

This time, Lillard’s shot could be the thing that holds the Blazers together.

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As Damian Lillard takes questions, Russell Westbrook is left searching for answers

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USA Today Images

As Damian Lillard takes questions, Russell Westbrook is left searching for answers

Damian Lillard has become one of the most lethal players in the NBA.

According to NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh, Lillard generated the fifth-most wins in the NBA while the Portland Trail Blazers are the third-most efficient offense in the league.

On Tuesday night, Lillard, in the 45th minute, delivered a legendary 37-foot three-pointer over Oklahoma City’s Paul George that proved when there’s nothing left in the tank, Lillard’s ready. The game-winning shot sealed the deal for Portland, who is on its way to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

While Lillard was drilling shots and dropping 30-footers, the Thunder seemed puzzled on how to defend Mr. Unguardable. This used to be the way people would talk about Russell Westbrook, but according to Haberstroh, the tides have changed.

Here’s a few takeaways from Haberstroh’s latest article: How Dame Lillard and the rest of the NBA left Russell Westbrook behind

On Westbrook’s performance in the Blazers-Thunder series:

In this series, Westbrook struggled to get to the rack and finish at a high level. He missed over half his layups, making just 48.8 percent of his shots at the rim (league average is about 60 percent). Westbrook finished with zero dunks in the series and his transition efficiency ranked dead-last among players with at least 20 transition plays, per NBA.com tracking. Normally, we could chalk that up to small sample size, but Westbrook ranked last in transition efficiency in the regular season among the 27 players with at least 250 transition plays. This is more than a blip.

On what’s changed in Westbrook:

He’s dunking less, getting to the foul line less and missing more layups than he makes. These are all the markings of a player either in decline or in the wrong era, perhaps both. George’s arrival was supposed to weed out Westbrook’s most inefficient shots and make him more effective. But the opposite has happened: George’s efficient shot has only made Westbrook’s weaknesses more glaring.

On how Lillard and Westbrook differ:

Lillard doesn’t overwhelm with his size. In fact, he was equally inefficient at the rim as Westbrook, shooting 47.4 percent on his 38 attempts in the restricted area. But Lillard has a counter.

The difference is that Lillard has put in long hours behind closed doors and developed a knockdown jumper in case he can’t get to the rim as easily as he used to. In this series, Lillard made 48.1 percent of his 3-pointers and was a mind-numbing 10-of-15 from 28 feet and beyond. It’s something you can’t readily defend, as George found out the hard way.

Lillard was facing a nearly impossible task there in the closing seconds: Find a good shot against George. These moments are extremely difficult to begin with. Potential go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds in the last give postseasons have gone in only 26 percent of the time (17-of-64), according to data from Basketball Reference. That was the baseline from which Lillard was working. Out of nowhere, he created a shot he has made nearly 40 percent this season.

On Lillard ushering in a new generation of players shooting from 30-foot-plus:

Lillard’s long-range jumper serves like David’s slingshot in a game of goliaths. With diminutive ball-handlers like Lillard, Trae Young and Stephen Curry bombing away from deep, it’s easy to see how this might be the future of the NBA. This season, a record-breaking total of 1,008 shots were taken from 30 to 40 feet, up from 860 from last season and nearly double the total of 525 from 2016-17, per Basketball Reference. 

Read full story here

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The audacity of Dame for even taking that shot and how much it meant

The audacity of Dame for even taking that shot and how much it meant

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.

Stay ahead of your Trail Blazers and get all you need to know this postseason. Get LIVE Trail Blazers coverage, in-depth articles, podcast, videos and more.  All you have to do is download the app,  log-in and the Blazers are at your fingertips. Download Now!
 

Rip City Rewind: Lillard's 'bad shot' goes down as one of the best shots in Blazers history

Rip City Rewind: Lillard's 'bad shot' goes down as one of the best shots in Blazers history

With the Portland Trail Blazers leading the playoff series 3-1 over the Oklahoma City Thunder heading into Game 5, the Blazers knew it was time to take care of business on home-court Tuesday night.

Portland trailed 107-92 with 7:12 left in the game, but the clock struck Lillard Time and the Blazers All Star guard was not going down without a fight. The Blazers went on a 26-8 run to end the game with Lillard notching a basket with 32.8 seconds left to put Portland within two. As seconds ticked off the clock, Lillard silenced the Thunder with a buzzer-beater from the logo to give Portland the win.

Here’s a look at your Rip City Rewind with everything you might have missed as the Blazers beat the Thunder to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

It was the shot that sent shockwaves across the NBA and left players around the league singing Lillard's praises. With 18.4 seconds left on the clock, Damian Lillard drilled a three-pointer from 37 feet over Oklahoma City’s Paul George to make one of the biggest shots in basketball history.

Lillard brought the knockout and waved “goodbye” to the Thunder bench in a moment that will be remembered in Blazers history. Here's a look at the game-winning shot from every angle and every call

Dwight Jaynes recounted Lillard’s 50 point performance, which was postseason franchise record: Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

Damian Lillard didn’t do it alone though. A surprise appearance from Jusuf Nurkic, who sustained a season-ending leg injury in March, helped give the Blazers the momentum to finish off the Thunder.

Nurkic sported a “Got Bricks? Next question” shirt and a pair of crutches while he cheered on his brothers in an electric Moda Center. Following the game, Nurkic let the f-bomb fly when describing why he drove to the Moda Center during the third quarter to support his squad.

Jamie Hudson wrote about Bosnian Beast’s game-changing appearance: Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t watch Game 5 from his house any longer and he showed up just in time

It was hard-fought game for Enes Kanter as well, who sustained a separated shoulder in Game 5. Following the game, Kanter said he got an injection at halftime, and would be good to go in the second round.

Jamie Hudson has the latest on Kanter’s shoulder injury: Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Next up, the Blazers will take on the winner from the Denver Nuggets-San Antonio Spurs matchup. The Nuggets currently lead the series 3-2 over the Spurs. Game 1 of the second round is set for Monday, April 29. Time and location is to be determined. 

MORE QUICK LINKS FROM GAME 5:

VIDEO: The legend of Damian Lillard grows 

VIDEO: Lillard may have been the hero, but Nurk saved the day 

VIDEO: Damian Lillard's series clinching shots, side by side

VIDEO: Lillard's Top 10 Plays from Game 5

Stay ahead of your Trail Blazers and get all you need to know this postseason. Get LIVE Trail Blazers coverage, in-depth articles, podcast, videos and more.  All you have to do is download the app,  log-in and the Blazers are at your fingertips. Download Now!
 

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard delivers redemption from 37 feet out

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard delivers redemption from 37 feet out

The whiteboard inside the Trail Blazers locker room read “10:30.” Wednesday was an optional day at the team’s practice facility, a chance for players to come in and get treatment from the medical staff if they need it, but there isn’t anything formal scheduled.

It would be understandable if the place was a ghost town.

On the strength of Damian Lillard’s historic, 37-foot series ender, the Blazers earned a day off and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

Lillard’s shot, a side-stepping laser from just right of the pinwheel logo at midcourt, is the stuff of legends, a storybook capper that might be too cliche even for fiction. And yet there Lillard was etching his own chapter in his ever-expanding book of Rip City folklore with a comically deep three-pointer and a wave goodbye to the Oklahoma City bench.

As the ball crashed through the net and the Moda Center erupted, it was natural to compare this to another great Lillard moment: The series-clinching “0.9” shot in 2014 that ushered the Houston Rockets out of the playoffs.

But this was less about one-upping a historic moment with another and more about catharsis and exorcising the demons from a playoff defeat just earlier. After a brutal early exit from the playoffs last season, Lillard’s 50-point masterpiece on Tuesday was an emphatic rejection that his team might suffer a similar fate.

That’s why the Blazers could take a moment to reflect on what Lillard’s shot meant in the moment. 

“Last year at this time we were going home,” Al-Farouq Aminu said. “This year we’re getting ready for another opponent. So, I can appreciate the mess out of this.”

“Anytime you’re able to advance in the playoffs and keep going it’s a big moment,” Evan Turner added. “Especially when it comes down to -- in a sense -- getting a monkey off our back because everybody talked about the past like it was a big deal.”

The Blazers spent much of this season saying they had moved on from the last year’s playoff sweep, choosing to look ahead when pressed instead of revisiting a painful week last April when they were dominated by New Orleans.

The Blazers don’t know their second round opponent yet. They’ll have to wait until at least Thursday night to find out whether the series might start at home against San Antonio or on the road in Denver. Moe Harkless said he planned to sleep in a little on Wednesday morning and indulge in a day off earned in the most dramatic way possible. Terry Stotts said he would go for a walk and maybe have a glass of wine on Wednesday evening.

They can thank Lillard’s heroics for their leisure time. He’s been saying for months that the Blazers recent playoff struggles would help his grow.

He delivered redemption from nearly 40-feet out, and after a year of waiting it was natural to circle back to those feelings of failure from a season ago.

“To go into the playoffs last year and have that type of experience, in my mind, I didn’t feel bad for myself,” Lillard said when asked to reflect on Tuesday night. “I was like ’I’m going to accept responsibility that we didn’t play well.’ It was embarrassing but when you go through stuff like that and you stay together and you keep working, you keep believing in what we do (and) our purpose, what we come into training camp saying to each other, what our coaches are saying, the unity that we have. We stay true to that and keep believingin what we’ve built up here, it’s going to be something waiting for us.”

“You don’t just go through stuff when you’ve got a group of good guys that work hard and do things the right way, in my mind, I was just like something down the road is going to work out for us if we just stay with it and keep our minds right. I think this is the beginning of that.”

NBA players react to Dame's insane game-winner

NBA players react to Dame's insane game-winner

The year was 2014. There were 0.9 seconds left on the clock. Damian Lillard caught the inbounds pass, lifted up, and drained the improbable game-winner over an outstretched Chandler Parsons to send Houston home.

A lot has changed since then, yet much remains the same...

The year was 2019. There were two seconds left on the clock. Damian Lillard dribbled to his right, stepped back, lifted up, and drained the improbable 37-foot game-winner over an outstretched Paul George to send Oklahoma City home. 

With all that has changed, one thing is still certain: Damian Lillard has ice running through his veins. 

As expected with a shot like that, social media blew up. But it wasn't just the Rip City faithful that were amazed. Lillard's NBA counterparts were just as blown away... 

It wasn't just players from around the NBA that chimed in. Lillard's teammates, both past and present were amazed as well...

And before we leave, let's not forget about ol' Chandler Parsons, the man that Lillard hit that 0.9 shot over...