May 3, 2014, 3:06 AM EST
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.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:02 AM EST
To quote Bob Uecker, “juuuuust a bit outside.”
Feb 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
There is about as much chance of me getting a date with Emily Ratajkowski this weekend as there is of this actually happening.
Shane Battier on Carmelo Anthony: ‘Last two years I guarded him, he did exactly what the scouting report said he would’
Feb 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
Maybe, but Melo still dropped 50 on Battier’s Heat in 2013.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
NBA teams are considering the question
Daryl Morey believes two bad shots are better than one good shot (always), but data wasn’t significant enough for Jeff Van Gundy to change
Feb 27, 2015, 7:59 PM EST
An interesting anecdote from Morey (speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference) about how the data showed an advantage, but not one big enough for his coach to change.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:59 PM EST
Instead of 30-year plan, assistant Celtics general manager unveils five-year and 10-year plans
Feb 27, 2015, 6:07 PM EST
Kevin Love, it’s your show.
Feb 27, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
There are financial obstacles in the way of dropping 22 games from the schedule, but Battier makes a somewhat compelling case.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:56 PM EST
He’s day to day. (Insert your Keith Olberman joke here.)
Feb 27, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
It’s not going to change most fans’ minds, but it’s a good first step.
Feb 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Don’t be surprised if another bidder comes in over the top.
Feb 27, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Don’t expect him to return, but if he does Cleveland appears off the list.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
Turns out Common was a Bulls ball boy back in the early Jordan era in Chicago, so he and Michael Jordan had some laughs together.
Jeff Van Gundy to Daryl Morey when he flinched at using analytics to make a decision: ‘Either you believe in this sh-t or you don’t’
Feb 27, 2015, 2:14 PM EST
The data said that Dikembe Mutombo was better than Yao Ming, but Morey wasn’t ready to make that call.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
A team’s best players hold each other accountable, according to the former NBA player.
Feb 27, 2015, 12:48 PM EST
Phil Jackson can’t just quietly sneak into a building and watch a prospect, so a reporter asked him a question. Jackson answered and will pay for that.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:58 AM EST
This makes the Bulls a lot more dangerous come the playoffs.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:28 AM EST
The Cavaliers’ rim protection has been infinitely better since the arrival of Timofey Mozgov, but he wasn’t stopping Draymond Green on this one.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:44 AM EST
DeMar DeRozan says he’s right next to Lowry on this.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:01 AM EST
And it’s got Tupac.
- Shane Battier: ‘I think a 60-game season would be perfect’ 12
- Derrick Rose expected to return in 4-6 weeks. In time for playoffs. 20
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: The Cavaliers we expected have arrived 17
- Report: George Karl controls Kings’ personnel, wants Ty Lawson, willing to move DeMarcus Cousins 29
- Paul George returns to practice with Pacers, could play in couple weeks 8
- Report: LeBron James wonders why he doesn’t get more MVP consideration 41
- Would Rajon Rondo leave the Mavericks for the Lakers? 63
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: The Spurs losing rodeo road trip a bad sign 14