Every once in a while an athlete paints their own masterpiece. Last night, with the clock running down and a chance to close out a hard fought series, Damian Lillard painted his.
Lillard scored 50 points and knocked down 10 three-pointers – both playoff career-highs and franchise records – to knock off the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were heavily favoured to win the series by the NBA world, myself included.
Now, I’ve seen quite a lot of basketball during my 27 years on this earth.
Heck, since I started Double Clutch in 2012, I’ve seen some incredible, memorable moments – including Lillard’s historic game-winner vs Houston in 2014 / Stephen Curry’s game-winner vs Oklahoma in 2016 to name just two – but I have never seen anything more audacious, more downright dirty, than what happened last night. And it wasn’t the fact that it took a monumental 26-8 run by the Blazers in the final 6:55 to win the game.
It was that Lillard took a three to win the game, when the score was tied, 37 feet out from the basket. A shot which he also hit in the face of an elite perimeter defender, a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best players in the game period; Paul George.
It was a shot which just a decade ago, would have seemed ludicrous. A shot which almost seemed to stop time as it hung in the air, allowing Lillard himself to take four steps back before seeing it hit the net. Which it did, hitting nothing but net I might add.
He turned, raised his arm to wave goodbye and calmly walked off the court. Yet, as his teammates rushed him, Lillard had no smile, no excitement. He had achieved the perfect end to his perfect series, just like he had planned all along.
It wasn’t a ‘bad shot’ Paul, you’re just a sore loser. In fact, Big Game Dame was 8-12 (66.7 percent) on shots from 30+ feet in this series. Every other player in the NBA is 6-38 (15.8 percent) combined on those shots this postseason.
It’s rare that athletes achieve these individual moments of brilliance, but Lillard already has many to his name and this is the greatest of them all. In hitting that shot, Dame has perhaps sealed his place as the most likeable player in the NBA. Afterall, the 6-3, 195lb guard wasn’t highly recruited when he went to college and he wasn’t supposed to become a superstar in lowly Portland, Oregon after being picked 6th in the 2012 Draft. Yet he’s done everything nobody thought he could do.
The fact is, his four years at Weber State, made him NBA-ready from day zero and now, just six years later he’s one of the best in the game. I’m not entirely sure why anyone is surprised, as you could argue he’s been one of the best since he entered the league. A player whom consistently proves his talents both on the court and off it. He is an All-NBA talent, hidden in Portland, who has spent his entire career disrespected and undervalued. He is the opposite to a Russell Westbrook and a Paul George. When he talks the talk, he walks the walk. Last night was his masterpiece and I for one just want to watch it over and over again.
Note: No this is not the greatest game-winner ever but let an NBA fan live a little…
Feature photo – Steve Dykes / Getty Images / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington