December 23rd, 2014 -- The Trail Blazers were wrapping up a four-game road trip with the final stop in Oklahoma City.
It was a showdown between Western Conference point guards in Portland's Damian Lillard and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, just like it is today.
Lillard came out on top.
He finished with 40 points and hit a game tying 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation as the Trail Blazers rallied back to beat the Thunder 115-111 in overtime.
It was in that moment, after that three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, when “Lillard Time” was officially born.
The Trail Blazers had just taken a full timeout with five seconds remaining in the game. Steve Blake was set to inbound the ball. Blake found Lillard without a Thunder player tailing him, curling off a screen at the top of the key. Lillard rose up, fell away, and drained the three.
And then, the now iconic celebration made its debut with a tapping of the wrist.
“That was just me pointing to the watch. That was "Lillard Time." That was the first time anybody seen that. I was just feeling myself a little bit at the moment,” Lillard said, grinning ear to ear, immediately after that victory in OKC.
The Trail Blazers starting point guard went 8-of-12 from 3-point range in the win. He added seven points in the extra period.
With that victory, Portland had won 11 of their past 14 road games.
Fast-forward five-plus years, and now the Blazers battle against the Thunder in their best of seven series in the First Round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
This week, Lillard recalled the inception of “Lillard Time.” He remembers it all very well.
“On that road trip, coach was like if we win three out of those four, or something like that, then we could go home for Christmas break and I wanted to go home,” Lillard chuckled.
“Before that [game] I remember like [Trail Blazers TV broadcaster] Mike Rice and those guys, kept saying “Lillard Time,” and then the fans picked up on it, and then I don’t know, after I made that shot I just like pointed to my wrist,” Lillard said.
Lillard also said in that moment it all happened so quickly and the decision to tap the wrist, “was just on the spot.”
The use of hashtags -- #LillardTime and #DameTime, along with the use of emoji watches can been all over social media on any given game night.
The Blazers fan base always knows what time it is…
But what does “Lillard Time” mean to the one who has earned that phrase?
“I think it just says something about my ability to come up big,” Lillard said. “I’ve had many failures late in games where I’ve missed a game winning shot, I missed a shot that could tie the game and then they make free throws to separate them by four, I’ve missed a free throw late and the other team hit a three to force overtime. I’ve had those experiences, too.”
Lillard emphasized having a clutch shot go down is, of course, not always a guarantee.
“I think “Lillard Time” just says how I’ve been able to come up big a lot of times even though I’ve not been able to do it every time, but more times than not I’m able to come up big regardless of what type of game I’m having. Whether I’m hot for the whole game, or whether I’ve been cold. I’ve had it in both situations,” Lillard said.
“Lillard Time” has also evolved over the years.
Nobody would know more about the evolution of “Lillard Time” than Lillard’s teammate Meyers Leonard, who entered the league at the same time.
“He can hit deep threes, he can come downhill and find the weak side pass of the guy rolling to the rim. His game has really evolved… He’s obviously going to take over the game and score, but he’s also, I feel, continuing to develop and keep his teammates involved,” Leonard said.
Leonard says he remembers that game tying three-pointer in OKC very well.
He also knows Lillard has earned the right to that very memorable phrase.
“Dame has the ability to take over a game because of his level of confidence, aggressiveness, understanding of the flow of the game, and also the work he puts in,” Leonard said.
To Lillard’s teammates, “Lillard Time” means much more than a clutch shot or big time assist.
“Lillard Time is the explosive scoring and the ‘Logo Three’ and all of these things, but the fact that he has the recognition to know what Moe [Harkless] and [Al-Farouq Aminu] and other guys do on a nightly basis that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, that’s huge, that’s leadership,” Leonard said.
“Lillard Time, to me… It’s his leadership, it’s his qualities that really stand out,” Leonard added.
So, whether you call it “Lillard Time” or “Dame Time,” or you just simply enjoy watching Damian Lillard come up with clutch shots time and time again, the memory of the very first wrist tap is on the brain, as Lillard and company head to OKC for Games 3 and 4, back to where it all began.
The story of “Lillard Time” continues…