'Dangry' Lillard bombs in career-high 51 points as Blazers wobble Warriors
Nirvana played the Moda Center Friday night, and we're not talking grunge bands of the '90s.
The Trail Blazers put together a Holy Grail of a performance in a 137-105 whipping of Golden State, a masterpiece that ranks as among the best in franchise regular-season history considering the circumstances.
The Warriors came to town with a 48-4 record, an 11-game win streak and a chance to better the NBA single-season best record of 72-10 by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
"They're a championship contender, a team that is chasing history," Portland forward Ed Davis said. "We're chasing the playoffs."
The Warriors departed with their most one-sided loss in nearly four years and a dose of humility during a season in which very little has gone wrong.
The Blazers -- now 28-27 and a half-game behind sixth-place Dallas (29-27) in the Western Conference playoff race -- "kicked our butts," Golden State coach Steve Kerr observed.
He wasn't kidding.
Portland scored a season high and easily scored the most points by a Golden State opponent this season in marking its ninth win in 10 outings. The Blazers shot .536, an opponent season high against a Warrior team that ranks No. 1 in the NBA in opponents' field-goal percentage at .430. The local quintet shot a season-best .567 from 3-point range, bombing in 17 of 30 attempts from beyond the stripe.
Then there was Damian Lillard, whose performance was almost beyond description.
Portland's undisputed ringleader scored 32 of his career-high 51 points in the second half -- 21 in a dazzling 5-minute, 18-second spurt in the fourth quarter in which he buried 7 of 8 shots from the field and 5 of 5 from 3-point range.
"At the end," summed up Portland coach Terry Stotts, "it was just ridiculous."
Lillard statistical line was unworldly -- 18 for 28 from the field, 9 for 12 on 3-point attempts, 6 for 7 at the line, with seven assists, a career-high six steals and no turnovers in 31 minutes.
Since Elias began tracking steals in 1973, no NBA player has recorded 50 points, seven assists and six steals in a game. Lillard becomes the first player with 50 points, seven assists and no turnovers since Reggie Miller in 1992.
"Everybody is going to remember the 51," Stotts said, "but he did a lot of other things."
Lillard, a two-time All-Star, wasn't invited to play in this year's All-Star game at Toronto. But he swears that wasn't extra motivation Friday night.
"I'm done with (talking about) the All-Star Game," Lillard said somewhat defiantly after the greatest individual game of his four-year career. "Whether I make the All-Star team or not, my focus is on making this team a winning team."
Backcourt mate CJ McCollum -- who chipped in 21 points and seven assists -- was a little more revealing.
McCollum said the theme for the night was "Angry Dame."
"He was an angry man out there tonight," McCollum said. "That's what we need. We need him to be aggressive, assertive, to play with a chip on his shoulder.
"He carried us tonight. He hit big shots. He defended. He made hustle plays. He didn't turn the ball over. He played like an All-Star tonight."
The All-Star snub "had nothing to do with it -- nothing at all," McCollum said with a wink.
When asked what exactly Lillard was angry about, McCollum backed off a little.
"I don't think he was angry," he said. "I'm just saying the way he played was like angry Dame. Dangry."
Lillard was inspired, too, to go up against the best team in the NBA, and the likely most valuable player award winner in his adversary at point guard, Stephen Curry. Curry was spectacular as well, scoring 31 points -- 12 for 23 from the field, 7 for 13 on treys -- with five assists despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter, left to watch Lillard's fireworks display.
"It was just (Lillard's) night," Curry said. "It happens. Well, 50 doesn't happen all the time. But for a guy who played as well as he did, you just have to take this one and move on."
Lillard was removed from the game with 4:41 to play and Portland on top 130-92, denying him a chance to better Damon Stoudamire's franchise scoring mark of 54 points set in 2005. But Lillard's performance couldn't have been more meaningful, coming in a signature victory over the NBA's most hallowed team.
"It wasn't an empty 50 or an ugly 50," Davis said. "He went out and got that 50 in a beautiful way."
Lillard saw his Rembrandt coming, in a reverse sort of way.
"The last couple of days in practice, I didn't feel great," he said. "I was turning the ball over, I wasn't making shots, I wasn't moving real well. I told Nate (Tibbetts, the Portland assistant coach), 'Every time I feel like this, the next day I just always have it.'
"I came out tonight and when I did my routine before the game, I just felt good. I felt in rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands. Once I saw the ball go in so much early in the game, That's what helped me get going later in the game."
Lillard had 17 points in the first quarter but only two in the second quarter as Golden State rallied from a 19-point deficit to draw within 68-62 at the half. Lillard scored 11 points in the third quarter as Portland outscored the Warriors 36-17 to take a commanding 104-79 lead into the fourth quarter. Then he turned into a gamer's delight, taking a couple of heat-check opportunities from way beyond the 3-point line and making them with the Blazers on the way to stoking their lead to 38 points.
"I don't remember when I went from 30 to 40, but I remember when I had 40 and I hit a 3, and I knew it was 43," Lillard said. "Then CJ pitched me one and I hit 46 and I was like, 'I'm getting 50.' "
Has Lillard ever been in a zone like he was in that fourth quarter?
"I have, but I haven't had the game I was having when it happened before," he said. "Usually, I have like nine points, and then I run off 25 and end up with 34. Tonight, I already had 20 points, so once I got hot, it took me to the next level."
The Blazers took their game to another level, too, pouring it on against the team favored to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
"I liked the way we kept our composure," Stotts said. "Offensively, we were terrific all night. After giving up some easy baskets in the first quarter, we played good defense the rest of the night.
"Beating Golden State, Damian getting 50. it was a special night for a lot of reasons."
The Warriors' previous worst loss of the season was 114-91 against Dallas on Dec. 30. Portland's shellacking was Golden State's most one-decided defeat since a 113-84 pasting by Denver in April 2012.
"They're human just like we are," McCollum shrugged. "Tonight, we jumped on them early. We defended better. We made it more difficult for them to execute. We're at home. You're supposed to protect your homecourt. And when a guy scores 50, you're not supposed to lose."
Stotts chose to run with the best fast-breaking teaming the business.
"You're not going to slow them down," he said. "Running was a big emphasis of our offense tonight -- pushing it back at them. If you drop your head after they score and play against their halfcourt defense, that puts you in a tough position. Make or miss, I wasn't going to put the breaks on our guys."
Kerr paid homage to the Blazers in general and to Lillard and McCollum in particular.
"Their backcourt is like our backcourt," he said. "They can just explode."
What Kerr was unhappy with was 13 of Golden State's 20 turnovers coming in the third quarter.
"This is the NBA," he said. "There are going to be nights when the other team gets hot. I'm OK with that.
"I'm not OK with us losing our poise and making 13 turnovers in one quarter. We tried to score like 15 points in one possession over and over, trying to make home-run plays. (The Blazers) deserved everything, but we should have put up a better effort, a better fight in the third quarter."
The Blazers are as hot as any team in the league, with home dates with Utah, Brooklyn and Houston preceding a 13-game span in which 11 games are on the road.
"A month ago, our goal was, 'Let's see if we can sneak into the playoffs,' " Davis said. "Our mindset now is, 'Let's get a fifth, sixth seed, or however it goes, maybe win a series.' We're raising the bar for ourselves, and it's starting to show."
NOTES: To top off a perfect night at the Moda Center, Daniel McGunnigle, an auditor from Tualatin, sank a halfcourt shot during a fourth-quarter timeout to win a 2016 Toyota Prius 5. Portland led 42-31 after one quarter, after scoring the most points Golden State has yielded in any quarter this season. Lillard is a sure bet to make Golden State's All-Opponent team. The Blazer captain, who scored 40 points in a 128-108 loss to Golden State at Portland on Jan. 8, is averaging 45.5 points and 8.5 assists in two games against the Warriors. Center Mason Plumlee had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists in 20 minutes for Portland, which got outstanding bench play from Mo Harkless (11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and eight rebounds), Gerald Henderson (12 points, four rebounds), Allen Crabbe (nine points, five boards) and Davis (two points, eight boards). The Blazers' newest addition, point guard Brian Roberts, scored seven points on 3-for-4 shooting in mop-up duty. Klay Thompson scored 23 points and Draymond Green collected 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.
Before the game, Kerr was asked if chasing the NBA's all-time best regular-season record has been a distraction. "No, it's fun," he said. "It's a privilege to even be in that conversation. It's fun to win and have the results we've had so far. We're all very aware that if you start talking about that with 30 games left, so much can happen. None of us are focused on it. Our focus is on trying to get the top seed in the West. Until we get down to the final 15 games or so, I don't think it's even worth talking about. But we're going to have to." Kerr was asked how he gets his players to play good defense. "It starts with the character of the players," Kerr said. "Guys who really care about the team and about each other, who care about more than just stats, they're going to defend, because that's what it takes to win at the highest level. The only thing we do as coaches is challenge them and try to give them a scheme that will work. And we listen to them. Sometimes the players will come up with a better scheme than we will. We've changed many times mid-stream based on suggestions our players give us. I'm incredibly lucky as a coach to have these guys. I don't have to motivate them; they motivate themselves." Kerr played on five NBA championship teams -- three in Chicago, two in San Antonio. Does his Golden State team remind him of those teams? "The similarity would be the balance between offense and defense," Kerr said. "To be this successful, to win a title, you have to be great at both ends. Those teams were all great defensively. The offense (in Chicago) around Michael (Jordan) was prolific, but if you can't do one or the other -- score or defend -- then you're in trouble. If you can do both, then you always have a chance." The Warriors entered the game leading the league in scoring (115.5), field-goal percentage (.490), 3-point percentage (.424), assists (29.2) and opponents' field-goal percentage (.430).