Once again, Lillard Time moves Blazers along in the playoffs
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — If Damian Lillard’s series-clinching walkoff 3-pointer against the Thunder looked vaguely familiar, it’s because he’s done it before.
His buzzer-beating 3 sent Houston packing back in 2014.
It may have been from a different spot and against a different team, but it was the same Lillard — cool and confident. As a result, the Trail Blazers are into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
“That’s Dame,” teammate Zach Collins said afterward. “Besides the shot, that was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. ... I think it will go down in the history books as that.”
Lillard finished with 50 points, including 10 3-pointers — capped by the legend-making 3 — in Portland’s 118-115 victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night that ended the series in five games.
Portland advances to the Western Conference semifinals to face the winner of the series between the Nuggets and San Antonio. Denver won 108-90 earlier Tuesday to take a 3-2 lead in that series.
The casual NBA fan may have forgotten about Lillard’s previous postseason heroics.
Portland had been swept in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons, last year by New Orleans and the previous year by Golden State. The Blazers’ last trip to the Western Conference semifinals came in 2016, when they beat the Clippers in the opening round before falling to the Warriors in five games.
But back in 2014, Lillard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Blazers stunned the Rockets 99-98 to take the playoff series in six games and advance to the conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years. In the raucous postgame celebration, Lillard took the public address microphone and shouted “Rip City!”
With the game tied in the final moments on Tuesday night, Lillard dribbled just inside of halfcourt near the Blazers logo and then pulled up and hit the game-winner at the buzzer from 37-feet.
Then he waved goodbye to the Thunder bench.
“It was a little bit different,′ Lillard said about the two game-winners, which came from different sides of the court. “In that (2014) game we were down by two, there was less time. That time, I actually broke the play. Not a lot of people know that I just broke the play. All the guys out there were telling me just run to the ball and that’s what I did. Tonight, this was kind of the way it was set up.”
Such series-clinching shots can cement reputations.
In 1989, Michael Jordan hit “The Shot” at the buzzer to send the upstart Chicago Bulls past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final game of the best-of-five, first-round series. Jordan hit another walk-off jumper against the Cavaliers in the 1993 Eastern conference semifinals.
John Stockton hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that sent the Utah Jazz to their first NBA Finals appearance in the 1997 Western Conference finals against the Rockets.
Lillard’s wave was a statement, much like his proclamation “Rip City!” was five years before. The series with the Thunder was contentious, with plenty of trash-talking and Paul George dunking as time expired — it didn’t count— with the Oklahoma City victory well in hand in Game 3.
Lillard made sure Portland would not be disrespected.
“I think after game three, Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist, they was out there doing all these celebrations and doing all this stuff and we kept our composure,” Lillard said. “After one win, that was what they decided to do and we were like, ‘OK, what we want to do is win four games. When we win those four games, there’s not going to be nothing to talk about.’ So that’s what that was.”
George, who was guarding Lillard on that big 3, seemed to still be taunting the Blazers after Tuesday night’s loss.
“I don’t care what anybody says, that’s a bad shot,” George said. “But he made it. That story will be told that it was bad shot and you have to live with it.”
In the end, the Thunder are going home and the Blazers move on.