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.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Rubio may not like it, but Minnesota can retain his rights in restricted free agency next summer.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Big man from Mexico preferred to remain in the NBA, but took the payday to return overseas.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch it all the way through.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
With two years left in the NBA, Bryant has an eye on life after basketball.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
A previous report said Gibson was less than thrilled with remaining a reserve.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Blatche can play, but the NBA offers simply weren’t there.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
10-story-high banner will return after a similar one was taken down when James left in 2010.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
Sessions could start at point guard for Sacramento.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Unsurprisingly, Curry supports his backcourt mate 100 percent.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
He had toe surgery in mid-August.
Sep 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
This is what you want out of these guys.
Tyson Chandler says negative comments questioning his impact on chemistry with Knicks were ‘the ultimate shock’
Sep 19, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Chandler, now with Dallas, fires back at the Knicks.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Chapman played four years for the Suns, and is facing charges in Scottsdale, AZ.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Must-read quote from Bogut on how he does NOT want to be perceived.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
This post is here to make life easier for you when you want to find these at the end of the season and point out how wrong we were.
UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks
Sep 19, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
It has to be a sign and trade and Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of leverage here.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“It was more just becoming a better all-around player, trying to take the next step and become a leader on this team and will my team to win.” —Jeff Green
Sep 19, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
And you wonder why Phil Jackson is worth $12 million a year to the Knicks organization.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Budenholzer got thrust into a position with the power a lot of coaches covet.
- Andray Blatche signs deal to play in China next season 4
- UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks 38
- LeBron James unveils latest signature shoe from Nike: The LEBRON 12 12
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Toronto Raptors 10
- Dwyane Wade credits David Stern’s dress code for improving his style 18
- Kevin Durant has grown close with Karl Malone 15
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers 5
- Steve Kerr said Danny Ferry made mistake but is a “man of high character” 38