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.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:49 PM EDT
Arenas suggests LeBron isn’t selfish enough.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Spurs coach happily assigns credit
Jul 30, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Will Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Pekovic or Gorgui Dieng start beside him?
Jul 30, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Will he want it?
Jul 30, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
Timberwolves apparently weren’t just going to trade Love for whatever they could get
Jul 30, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Suspending Patriots quarterback for a quarter of the season was bare minimum for Mavericks owner
Jul 30, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
Jerry Colangelo said attendance was mandatory to be considered for 2016 Olympic team
Jul 30, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT
NBA commissioner confident Africa will get a preseason game
Jul 30, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Hawks wing says his leg and ankle feel better
Jul 30, 2015, 9:28 AM EDT
Philadelphia drafted Holmes in second round
Jul 30, 2015, 8:33 AM EDT
Barnes is a perfect fit in for the “grit and grind” style of the Grizzlies.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Portland not making a call means they knew Aldridge was gone and it was time to rebuild.
Jul 30, 2015, 12:55 AM EDT
The Rockets have nice depth up front.
Jul 29, 2015, 10:55 PM EDT
The Pelicans were one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA last season, that’s about to change.
Jul 29, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
“I think someone who would watch this would think there is something wrong with me and something wrong with my friends.” — Chris Kaman
Jul 29, 2015, 8:47 PM EDT
Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are about to be finishing alley-oops from the best lob passer in the game.
Jul 29, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT
Manu Ginobili is a stud.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Kerr says Luke Walton is a future head coach in the NBA.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Toronto has shifted the roster to be more defensive, and be able to go smaller.
Jul 29, 2015, 5:21 PM EDT
Jimmy Kimmell is the best part.
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