There's never any quit in Damian Lillard or the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lillard’s late-game heroics were on full display in Game 5 Tuesday night in Denver.
But even with a performance that the NBA playoffs has never seen before, Lillard and the Blazers came up short in a 147-140 double-overtime loss.
It was an instant classic performance by Lillard, who finished with 55 points and 10 assists, complete with two game-tying three-pointers to send the Blazers to both OTs.
But it was the early hole that the team found themselves in that was one of the biggest topics of conversation postgame.
The Nuggets took a 22-point lead in the second quarter.
With Denver coming out and being the aggressors after losing Game 4, it’s no real surprise they took a big lead, but Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and his players know that a lead like that can’t happen Thursday night when the series shifts back to Portland.
“Well, there's no question in how we played after we got down 22 -- we were a different team,” Stotts said. “It reminded me of Game 2. It's just we have to sustain it like we did in Game 4 at our place and come out ready. We knew that they were going to come out with a lot of energy, with the crowd behind him, and we had a bad start.”
As a team, the Blazers weren’t able to get enough timely stops or give Lillard enough help.
Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum struggled from the field, going 7-of-22 for 18 points on the night.
McCollum explained how getting down so much early played a factor.
“I think it was a combination of things," he said. "We didn't get enough stops, missed some corner threes, missed some shots that I feel like we could've made and that was the game.
Lillard logged a game-high 52 minutes, while McCollum and Norman Powell both recorded 51 minutes.
Game 5 will undoubtedly take its toll on the Blazers.
But Portland’s point guard didn’t think it was because of the early 22-point deficit that made them run out of gas.
“We competed to the end,” Lillard said. “I think when you dig yourself a hole sometimes the issue is being able to get over the hump, and we got over the hump a few times.”
The Blazers won’t know the extent of both the physical and emotional toll of such a heartbreaking loss that took two overtimes until they get back to Portland.
Which is exactly what Coach Stotts noted.
“I can’t answer that right now. It’s hard to say.”