DALLAS -- If you can’t trust Damian Lillard, who can you trust?
That’s what it came down to with 8.4 seconds remaining in the game between Portland’s Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night. The Blazers were leading 120-119 when Damian Lillard was called for a foul on Dorian Finney-Smith, who was headed to the basket for a layup. Two shots and a chance for the Mavs to take the lead, right?
Not this season. New rule. This Blazers had not used their referees' challenge and Lillard implored Coach Terry Stotts to use it on the play. That made for a tough decision for Stotts because Portland had only one timeout left and if he lost the challenge, he’d also lose the timeout.
“Damian put me over the top,” Stotts said of his decision to challenge, which led to the call being overturned. “He was pretty adamant. Eight seconds and see what happens with the free throws. If Dame hadn’t been so adamant I probably wouldn’t have challenged. We’ve had this discussion. I told the players, when I ask you, you have to be truthful. Because most of you think you didn’t foul. I will trust them in those situations, but they have a responsibility to know if they foul them or not. But you don’t know what would have happened if they would have shot the free throws. I don’t know. It worked out for us tonight.”
As it turned out, there was a jump ball at center court because no one had possession after the play. With Hassan Whiteside fouled out and Zach Collins in the locker room with a dislocated shoulder, there was no way Portland should have won a jump ball against the Mavericks’ 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis. And really they didn’t – Porzingis just backtipped the ball toward the Blazer basket and Jalen Brunson was called for a foul on Kent Bazemore as they chased the ball down,
Bazemore made the first foul shot, missed the second and with 5.5 seconds left, Dallas hustled the ball upcourt, where Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a wild three-point attempt and the game belonged to Portland – which for a good part of the night seemed like an impossibility.
The Blazers trailed by 19 in the second quarter, cut the lead to 4 and then trailed by a dozen at the half. The young Mavericks, sparked by Porzingis and Luka Doncic, played free and easy in the first two quarters and were in charge of the game.
But things began to turn in the third quarter as Portland kept tinkering with coverages and lineups. The Mavs, meanwhile, appeared to tighten up a bit in the second half and particularly in the fourth quarter when they hit only one of their 14 three-point attempts.
“It was a wild game from start to finish,” Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said. “As the game went on, they became more consistent. We were just a little too volatile.”
Lillard, who scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half, immediately went to Stotts looking for him to make what proved to be a game-changing challenge.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘Coach, you gotta trust me. I hit all ball. After the game when I was walking through the tunnel I asked him, ‘Do you trust me now? I didn’t lie to you.’”
The Blazers got 35 points from CJ McCollum, who kept his team in the game in the first half, and 20 from Rodney Hood, who made all three of his three-point shots. Portland was 9-22 from three-point range and Dallas finished 13-50.
The Trail Blazers get no rest. Monday night they meet the Spurs in San Antonio.