Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Energy plays.

Collective play.

Staying ready to shoot.

These are all key components to the Trail Blazers 106-98 victory over the Pacers and Portland’s first game without starting shooting guard CJ McCollum.

Just as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about in his pregame interview, it was a collective group who found themselves getting extra minutes with McCollum out.

Jake Layman got the starting nod in place of McCollum, but then Rodney Hood started the second half.  Hood, Layman and Seth Curry, are all expected to get more minutes with McCollum sidelined.

Also, as expected, Damian Lillard carried the load as he notched his ninth double-double of the season by the end of the third quarter. Lillard finished with 30 points and 15 assists, which is a new season-high in assists and just one shy form tying his career-high.

With 15 assists on the night it shows how the game plan is to play as a team in McCollum’s absence. Lillard discussed how it’s not about playing hero ball during this stretch without his running mate.

“I think having a guy that’s such a huge part of our team go down and not be out there, it’s not gonna be just me going out there trying to be the hero. It’s going to have to be done by committee,” Lillard told Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

“Against a very good team, we had a lot of guys step up. It was really encouraging and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Lillard added.

ENERGY PLAYS AND CHASE DOWN BLOCKS

Zach Collins also saw the floor more, which proves Coach Stotts is going to fill McCollum’s minutes in a variety of ways. 

Collins made sure to make the most of the opportunity early and Coach Stotts was quick to recognize him postgame.

“Collins came in and made a lot of energy plays. I thought we scored more off of our energy than anything else,” Stotts said.

Even though this is just Collins’ second year in the league, he showed his wisdom in the locker room.

“[CJ] brings so much to our team... We just gotta come together and pick up the slack. Without him on the floor -- that’s a lot of buckets that we have to come up with and obviously, Dame has a lot on his shoulders and now that teams have to focus a lot more on him without CJ, we’ve got to help him out a little bit, just come together” Collins said.

Collins also noted that he always wants to “make energy plays that gets the crowd in to it,” and that’s exactly what he did midway through the second quarter with a chase down block on Tyreke Evans.

So, what goes through Collins’ mind when he’s going up for a chase down block like that?

“Move as fast as I can,” Collins said with a big smile.

“I need to get a little faster, but just try to get there as quickly as I can and try to time it right,” Collins said.

BE READY TO CATCH AND SHOOT

Al-Farouq Aminu picked up some of the scoring slack. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from three in the third quarter as he ignited the Blazers’ offense in the second half.

For Chief, it’s all about making sure he is ready to catch and release.

“Obviously Dame did a good job distributing, making sure everybody got involved… We just gotta continue to be ready to shoot,” Aminu said.

“I think what we did tonight was impressive, to be honest, I’m proud of everybody from top to bottom, the way we were able to step up without CJ and get a quality win,” Aminu added.

Aminu finished 4-for-5 from long distance and 5-for-8 from the field to score 16 points.

It’s all about that Blazer ball movement though.

“We just gotta play the same way and make sure we’re continuing to distribute the ball,” Aminu said.

NO NEED TO RUSH CJ BACK

Before Monday’s game both McCollum and Coach Stotts did not give any type of timetable on McCollum’s return.

Lillard knows one thing though—

He doesn’t want McCollum to hurry back before he’s ready.

Lillard has had this conversation with McCollum about taking his time to get the proper rehab.

“I don’t want [CJ] to have to rush it,” Lillard said. “And, when he does come back, I want him to be himself and be healthy... In my mind we’re going to finish the regular season without him... We’d rather have him healthy and strong for the playoffs.”

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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...

 

Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Trail Blazers starting center Enes Kanter suffered a separated shoulder following a hard hit with Thunder big man Steven Adams, but Kanter played through the pain. The injury happened in the first quarter of the Trail Blazers 118-115 thrilling victory over the Thunder.

Kanter’s left arm was in a giant sling and wrapped when he spoke with the media after the game.

“At halftime we did an injection, so I just tried to play through it,” Kanter said postgame.

Kanter finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds while also playing through quad pain as well.

The good news for the Blazers big man is he will now get a few days to rest up while the Nuggets and Spurs finish up their series. Denver currently holds a 3-2 lead. Game 6 is set for Thursday night.

Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

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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