A lead that reached as high as 24, a margin that was still 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, was gone. Vanished. And not only that, the Trail Blazers were now trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder by five with a little more than four minutes to play Tuesday night,
Enter Damian Lillard, who had suffered a knee bump in the third quarter that sent him off the floor in pain.
But it was time. His time.
Sorry -- it’s a cliche. I know you’ve heard this before. But it’s as if the man is a magician, making leads disappear like a coin in the hands of a sleight-of-hand artist.
And then it all begins:
- Pull up from 25 for a step-back three -- bucket, Thunder lead cut to 2.
- Penetrate into the lane and feed Gary Trent for a wide-open three. Blazers lead by 1.
- Another step-back three, this time from 26 feet. Blazers lead by 4.
- And now a 28-footer for three. Blazers lead by 7.
- Find an open Robert Covington from 25 feet for three. Blazers lead now by 8.
- And then, the icing on the cake, a 30-footer for three that serves as the final basket of a 115-104 win over the Thunder.
A total of 12 points and two assists over the final 4:11 as Portland closes the game with 18 of the last 20 points -- all of them either scored or assisted by Lillard.
After the last basket, the 30-footer, Enes Kanter just grabbed his head with both hands in wonderment, like someone who had just discovered the one-dollar bill he’d been holding had been turned into a $100 bill.
“I've never seen anything like this before, and I’ve played with some great great players. But I've never seen anything like this before.
“It's wild. It is like a cheat code. You know I mean … I got no words. I just put my hands on my head. OK, there is no way to guard him.”
Lillard ended the night with 31 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Portland had six players in double figures, a total of 26 assists while hitting 20 of 47 from three-point range. Kanter had 21 rebounds, seven of them at the offensive end, while Gary Trent scored 19.
It was the Trail Blazers’ fifth straight win and seventh in their last eight, heading into a Wednesday night game at New Orleans.
Lillard talked about his mindset in those late-game situations that have made “Dame Time” a thing.
“When the moment comes, you know that,” he said. “The moment of truth, I guess… A play needs to be made, a shot needs to be made. The team needs to be lifted up.
“Just being able to recognize that moment and take yourself to that place mentally to where it's like, regardless of what kind of game it has been, embrace this moment. You know, embrace this opportunity to rise up and have a moment when it's most needed. And I think when I recognize those situations that it's almost like on the inside, I get excited.
“Like, I don't want to be in those situations, but when those moments come, I literally feel something on the inside like, ‘Alright, this is one of those moments where you got to will something right here. You gotta, you gotta find something right here.’ And I think it's a mental thing.”
A mental thing. A physical thing.
And at some point, it’s become a magical thing.