May 3, 2014, 3:06 AM EDT
Damian Lillard, prior to an inbound with 0.9 seconds left and the Trail Blazers down two points in a closeout playoff game, stood almost cryptically still.
The Trail Blazers weren’t supposed to be here. They went 33-49 last season, and though they had a solid young core, few thought they could take a major step in only a year. We predicted they’d go .500 and miss the playoffs. An ESPN panel had them 10th in the Western Conference with 39 wins. Yahoo Sports also gave them 39 wins, and Sports Illustrated pegged them 11th in the conference.
Without warning, Lillard took off like a bat out of hell.
The Trail Blazers point guard raced by defenders, received the inbound pass and made a jaw-dropping, buzzer-beating, series-ending, city-inspiring, legacy-defining 3-pointer to give Portland its first playoff win 14 years.
The final score Friday was Trail Blazers 99, Rockets 98 – and the tension of a tight game that was never separated by more than four points for the excruciating final 17 minutes only fueled the celebration afterward.
Lillard ran around a suddenly crowded court and popped his jersey – a gesture The New York Times once said would never reach the NBA because it put too emphasis on the team over the individual. Then, the second-year point guard grabbed the microphone and shouted “Rip Citaaaaayyyyy!!!”
Party on, Portland.
The Trail Blazers and their fans have been through so much – consecutive sweeps by the Lakers, taking the Mavericks to Game 7 before losing, the Jail Blazers, bottoming out at 21-61, drafting Greg Oden, more early playoff exits, losing Brandon Roy, believing they could lose LaMarcus Aldridge – and Lillard’s shot released all their frustration and turned it into jubilation.
Lillard didn’t singlehandedly save the franchise, but he’s breathed life into it like nobody since Roy. First Lillard won Rookie of the Year, and now this. Friday, he finished with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers. He’s quickly earned a place in any discussion about the NBA’s most-clutch players.
Aldridge (30 points and 13 rebounds) was nearly as good, but Houston’s two stars nearly outdid Portland’s and sent this series to a Game 7.
James Harden (34 points on 15 shots) lifted the Rockets late, and Dwight Howard (26 points and 11 rebounds) carried them late. Howard scored 13 straight Houston points, accounting for all the team’s scoring in the final 8:50, until Chandler Parsons made a putback that put the Rockets up two with 0.9 seconds remaining.
Before the final inbound, Parsons, perhaps expecting to switch back on a screen, switched with Patrick Beverley (Houston’s top perimeter defender) onto Lillard. Then, Lillard’s sudden burst toward an inbounding Batum created an easy pass and open, though long, shot.
The basket that sent Portland into delirium also began an offseason of scrutiny for the Rockets.
They signed Howard last summer, ratcheting up expectations to championship level. They have two legitimate stars and arguably the NBA’s best role players. Nothing seemed out of reach.
But a reasonable analysis suggests they needed a year for their new players to jell and another offseason to re-stock the roster after trimming the requisite salary to sign Howard. After all, not even LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won a title their first season with the Heat.
Don’t count on reasonable, though. Howard is the NBA’s easiest scapegoat, and people will line up to criticize him.
Patience is not a virtue in this league. Not in Houston and not in Portland.
No team had gone longer since its last playoff-series win that the Trail Blazers, and the wait was excruciating. And also worth it.
It was only a matter of time until Lillard and his Trail Blazers escaped their malaise, took off and brought Portland to its feet once again.
May 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Cavaliers guard disagrees
May 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists .
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
The Hawks’ night goes from bad to worse.
LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks
May 25, 2015, 12:09 AM EDT
The Cavs are one win away from the Finals.
May 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
He’s not wrong.
May 24, 2015, 9:46 PM EDT
A trend is becoming clear: Do not mess with Dellavedova.
May 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The question really is now much do you value the three?
May 24, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Matthew Dellavedova will start for the Cavaliers.
May 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Lakers will be picking second in next month’s draft.
Report: Heat still considered the frontrunners to re-sign Goran Dragic, but he wants them to play faster
May 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Dragic can become a free agent this summer.
May 24, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The rapper wants Harden to apologize for stealing his dance.
May 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Korver suffered an ankle injury in Game 2.
May 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cleveland has put in a bid for the 2018 event.
May 24, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Curry not only dropped 40, but he was talking back to the fans in Houston.
May 24, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Depending on what happens with the first two picks, Philadelphia could fill both requirements.
May 24, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
If one play can sum up a game, this was it.
May 24, 2015, 12:57 AM EDT
There’s seemingly no solving Golden State’s dominant defense
May 24, 2015, 12:07 AM EDT
Houston has played well and valiantly this postseason, but the Warriors are simply better.
May 23, 2015, 10:32 PM EDT
He did it in nine fewer games than Miller.
May 23, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Great stuff from the game’s best player.
- LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks 22
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 3 for Cavaliers with knee tendonitis 3
- Lil B says James Harden is officially under the Based God’s curse 27
- Warriors don’t live by 3, die by 3. They live by defense, live by defense 9
- Stephen Curry drops 40, Warriors rout Rockets by 35 to take 3-0 series lead 27
- Hawks Kyle Korver out for remainder of playoffs with high ankle sprain 17
- Report: Scott Skiles in lead to become next Orlando coach 17
- Report: Jeff Van Gundy candidate for Pelicans’ coaching job 16