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 4, 2015, 12:33 AM EDT
Thomas is a former No. 4 overall pick.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
The street artist Madsteez painted the commissioned piece.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Weber played four years in college.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:41 PM EDT
Someone should tell him that isn’t up to him.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Whiteside’s deadline wasn’t until December 1.
Sep 3, 2015, 8:04 PM EDT
Someone is going to jail for a while.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
The Wizards are wise to wait on offering a max.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
He tore the ACL last month playing for Australia.
Sep 3, 2015, 5:09 PM EDT
The trade speculation around him is not based in reality.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
Moreland was reportedly considering Pistons and Lakers
Sep 3, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT
Weird or nah?
Sep 3, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
Cavaliers craft unusual contract to give Smith a partial guarantee next season
Sep 3, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
Former Knick and Raptor had hip surgery
Sep 3, 2015, 12:28 PM EDT
Nets are reportedly valued at $700 million
Report: J.R. Smith’s contract has less guaranteed money over two years than player option would’ve presented over one
Sep 3, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
Smith’s deal full of incentives
Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 AM EDT
Thompson reportedly waiting for a max contract
Sep 3, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Memphis mum on when rookie will return
Sep 3, 2015, 8:32 AM EDT
Will he and Rick Carlisle get along?
Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He will be remembered as a Celtic, but Los Angeles is his hometown.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT
These are just classic.
- Markieff Morris: “My future will not be in Phoenix” 13
- Shaq tells Suzy Shuster he, Kobe Bryant could have tied Jordan’s six titles 32
- Dwight Howard tried to take loaded gun through airport security, will not face charges 49
- Will Miami make a run at Kevin Durant? 17
- Report: Veteran forward Chuck Hayes agrees to deal with Clippers 7
- Report: Lakers to sign Brazilian, FC Barcelona point guard Marcelo Huertas to one-year deal 10
- Shaq to Kobe on podcast: “I just want people to know that I don’t hate you” 18
- D’Angelo Russell on Tracy McGrady tweet: “Some Lakers fans are spoiled” 28