Damian Lillard has made so many big-time plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. So many clutch shots, he's performed so many late-game heroics. And yes, so many imaginary wristwatch taps walking off the floor after a win.
But Saturday night's show was just a little different. Just a little better, in fact.
The Lillard performance in Portland's 106-104 win at Phoenix was superb. It wasn't just star quality, it was superstar quality. The Trail Blazers trailed 93-78 with 7:26 to go in the game and were struggling to make shots. At one point, they were 3-26 from three-point range. Lillard himself had been battling shooting woes, too. But this was a game that had to be won and Lillard took it upon himself to take care of business. By now, you know what he accomplished and if you didn't see it live I'd advise you to catch the game as it's replayed on NBC Sports Northwest in the next couple of days.
At some point in the fourth quarter, Lillard flipped a switch most players have never owned. This wasn't just a great game, it was a rescue mission.
He made 8 of his 12 fourth-quarter shots, two of four three-pointers in the period and had five rebounds. He turned two of his offensive rebounds into spectacular baskets, one on a tip-dunk when he came from beyond the three-point arc to flush a Shabazz Napier miss and then a tip-in of an Al-Farouq Aminu shot on which he was fouled with 2:38 left. He made the free throw to tie the game.
And you've undoubtedly seen his game-winner with .9 left in the game -- a driving layup on which he was fouled (no call) and still managed to find a way to slip the shot between a tangle of long arms, off the backboard and into the basket. The shot capped a 19-point fourth quarter.
Lillard was flawless over the final four minutes. You often hear of NBA players "taking over the game," but Lillard grabbed this one by the throat and just wouldn't let go until it was his. It was the sort of game that gathers Most Valuable Player votes. No, he's not going to win that award -- but it was the kind of game that vaults him even higher up in the hierarchy of NBA players.
And I don't want to hear any of that "Oh, it was a lousy team... consider the opposition... they should have won by 20" garbage. Yes, the Suns are one of the worst teams in the league. But anybody can beat anybody in the NBA and stuff happens, especially on back-to-back road games.
I'm not sure, given Portland's race to claim a high playoff seed, that this wasn't his best game-closing performance as a pro -- and that covers a lot of ground.
He was amazing.