Damian Lillard brought NBA Twitter out of its chair Thursday night with a 3-pointer from about 40 feet. It looked effortless, and he shot it with the Trail Blazers trailing by seven in the fourth quarter of a must-win game. That showed the confidence Dame brings every night.
Late in the game, there was another play at midcourt, and this one showed the competitiveness Lillard brings. It was a pivotal moment, and it should be getting him some extra notice. It was his chasedown strip of the Nets’ Caris LeVert, who was his team’s Lillard this night in the Central Florida bubble.
The turnover led to a CJ McCollum bucket and a four-point Blazers lead with 53.4 seconds to play. Portland wound up winning by one, 134-133, because LeVert missed just before the buzzer. The win sent the Blazers into the NBA’s first play-in tournament, where they’ll face the Grizzlies on Saturday. The play-in winner will get the top-seeded Lakers in the Western Conference first round.
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Lillard stopping a potential tying or lead-changing possession, at the risk of getting beat or being called for a foul, was a product of the desperation that comes with a win-or-go-home game.
“At that point, I was, like, we’ve got to completely sell out. We can’t let this game slip,” he told reporters after the game.
The shot from the logo was born of desperation, too. Lillard knew Portland’s season was on the line and that he couldn’t keep passing out of traps as he brought the ball up the court.
“It got to the point where I was like, ‘I’m not going to sleep well tonight knowing that I just was passive and made the right play.’ Each time I saw a look, I [didn’t] care how far it was or if somebody was close to me, if I had a sniff, I was raising up and shooting it, and that’s why I shot that one,” he told TNT postgame.
LeVert had 34 points at the time of the steal — he finished with 37 — and had made new friends across the internet. They were talking about him becoming Brooklyn’s third star when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving get back on the court. He was the Nets’ third-leading scorer this season at 18.7 per game, but he had become their first option in the bubble (25.0 per game) with Spencer Dinwiddie not playing.
Now, he’ll lead them into the first round of the East playoffs next week as the seventh seed against the No. 2 Raptors.
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“I knew what we [were] coming into tonight,” Lillard told TNT. “I’ve seen, like, three of their games, and I knew it was going to be this type of game. We weren’t going to come in here and just get ’em out of there. They play with a lot of effort, they play together, they believe.
“And Caris LeVert is cold.”
LeVert lost his duel with Lillard, who finished the regular season with games of 51, 61 and 42 points after being trolled by the Clippers’ Paul George and Patrick Beverley. No shame in coming up short, though. Dame was on the other side, he was on a roll, and he was working to save his team’s season.
And he had to make two eyebrow-raising plays to ensure that would happen.
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