Lillard cranks it up in crunch time as Blazers thump Thunder
The Moda Center crowd has seen it before from Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers' All-Star point guard scripting a version of his crunch-time chronicles.
There was the game a year ago this week, when he sank three 3-pointers and scored 16 points over the final 5:11 of a come-from-behind 98-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
But Sunday night, "Lillard Time" was at another level.
The 6-3 Lillard created Moda madness, knocking down five straight treys and scoring 17 points in the final 3:07 to rally Portland from an eight-point deficit to a 115-110 win over Oklahoma City.
Beginning at the 3:07 mark -- when he began his streak with a 3 that cut the Thunder's lead to 103-98 -- Lillard entered into a one-minute, 55-second zone that few players ever visit.
When the smoke clear and Lillard had bombed in five in a row from beyond the arc, the scoreboard showed Portland 113, OKC 110, with 1:12 on the clock. As Lillard strode off the floor during the ensuing timeout, he tapped his left wrist with a familiar signal to an imaginary wristwatch.
It was "Lillard Time" once again.
Neither team scored another field goal, and Lillard finally missed a 3-point attempt with 3.9 seconds left. But Al-Farouq Aminu snared the long rebound -- Portland's 20th offensive board of the evening -- and got the ball to Lillard, who was fouled with 1.2 seconds to go. He sank a pair at the line to salt away a sweet victory away for the Blazers (16-24), who ended a three-game losing streak.
"An understatement: That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes," Portland coach Terry Stotts told the media. "We were battling the whole game, and he came up big. To hit five 3s in two minutes -- you don't see that very often."
Especially with the game on the line against one of the four best teams in the NBA. The Thunder (26-12) came in hot, too, having won six of their last seven games and 15 of 18.
"Dame's ability to take over a game is incredible," teammate Meyers Leonard said. "He's an elite scorer with the ability to get his shot off at any time.
"But I'll say this: It didn't surprise me. We've all seen it before from him. We've seen big shots. We've seen him put the ball in the bucket in the fourth quarter, and over the last three minutes tonight, he got it going."
After going 1 for 5 from the field in the first half, Lillard scored 28 of his 31 points after intermission. The Thunder were "blitzing" him on the pick-and-roll, sending the defender being screened out at him to negate perimeter shot attempts.
But down the stretch, Lillard took matters into his own hands.
"They were making it hard for me to turn the corner," said Lillard, who was 8 for 14 from 3-point range and had nine assists and seven rebounds -- though also seven turnovers -- in his 37 minutes. "I just knew I needed to be more aggressive, looking at the rim and trying to make plays. I got some good looks at the rim and I let 'em fly."
Boy, did he.
"He was terrific," said Portland center Mason Plumlee, who battled OKC pivots Steven Adams and Enes Kanter all night, collecting 11 points, 11 boards and four assists in 31 minutes. "Seemed like he hit every shot he took down the stretch. He created for himself, too. Some of them weren't open. He had a hand in his face and he just knocked 'em down.
"Dame has to be one of the best closers in the league. He knows his spots and gets to them, and he shoots in rhythm. When you have that combination, it makes you hard to guard."
Lillard was asked if he felt he just couldn't miss when he got the ball in the closing minutes.
"You're like that sometimes when you see the ball go in a few times," he said. "Our defense made it happen. You get a stop, you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out, and I was able to do it tonight."
After the Thunder used a 27-9 run to seize an 82-74 lead late in the third quarter, it appeared it was going to be another loss for the Blazers, who had won only four times in their previous 13 outings. Felt that way, too, when Andre Roberson buried a corner 3 to put OKC on top 103-95 with 3:25 to play.
OKC's Kevin Durant scored 28 points, but none in the fourth quarter, going 0 for 3 from the field over the final 12 minutes. Teammate Russell Westbrook contributed 25 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists, but started the game 1 for 9 from the field and finished 7 for 19.
Portland, meanwhile, made a season-high 19 3-point shots in a franchise-record 44 attempts behind the arc.
"It was about taking what (the OKC defense) gave us," Stotts said. "An open 3 is a good 3. As long as the ball is moving and it's in rhythm, and especially if it comes off the pass, I'm good with it."
The Blazers outrebounded the Thunder -- who rank second in the NBA in rebound percentage -- 52-42, including the 20 off the offensive glass. That allowed the Blazers to put up 24 more shots from the field (100 to 76) than the Thunder. Portland also had a 22-8 edge in second-chance points.
"The second-chance points, the offensive rebounding, really hurt us," Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. "The 3-point line was critical, too. The other thing was taking care of the basketball (the Thunder had 19 turnovers). In all three of those areas, we weren't able to control (the Blazers) at all. That's why we came up a little bit short."
If the result was unexpected, well, that's the NBA for you.
"The league is kind of funny," Stotts observed. "Like our win against Cleveland (a 105-76 rout on Dec. 26) -- you don't see it coming.
"That's why you keep competing. It's been a rough week, and we knew it would be. It's tough going through a losing streak. I'm happy for the fans. I'm glad they got to see a good game. It was a good day all around."
NOTES -- Lillard matched his career high with the eight 3-pointers and tied the franchise record with seven in a half. CJ McCollum scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half but finished only 8 for 23 from the field. Plumlee recorded his 12th double-double of the season and also made an important block of a dunk attempt by Serge Ibaka with 30 seconds left. "He hesitated a little bit and it gave me a chance to get back in the play," Plumlee said. "Plus, he blocked me at the other end -- I had to get him back." Adams had a big game with 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting with 10 rebounds. Medford native Kyle Singler got in briefly for the Thunder, going scoreless in two minutes.
For 19 years, Donovan won a lot of games -- and two NCAA championships -- at the University of Florida. Now he is making the transition to the NBA for the first time at 50 as the Thunder's head coach. "I was in a very healthy, great environment at Florida," Donovan said. "My athletic director (Jeremy Foley) was there with me for 19 years. My trainer, my strength coach, assistant coaches had worked with me in the past. There were a lot of deep-formed relationships, and I always felt like we were on the same page. When you leave something like that, you don't know what you're walking into. But Oklahoma City is an incredible organization because of the people. Any job is too hard when you're not enjoying the people, but the people in Oklahoma City and within the Thunder organization have made my transition easy."
Do NBA players listen to the coach as much as college players?
"With college players, there's a naiveté," Donovan said. "You're always trying to give them experiences they've never had before and hoping they can learn. A lot of times it doesn't work out well. they need to go through it a lot of times before they can understand what you're talking about. Here, the coaching is different, but they want to be coached. Kevin and Russell are always looking for things to help them get better. When you're providing information, they do a really good job of applying it. Because they have so much experience, they have an awareness so that when you talk to them and they can apply it."