On Tuesday night, the Portland Trail Blazers saw their 24- point third-quarter lead flipped into a five-point deficit with simply over four minutes to play. This is what the NBA defines as clutch time– a game within 5 points with under five minutes left. They should just relabel it, formally, Dame Time.
Over the next 3 minutes, Damian Lillard, yet again, pulled the Blazers off the ropes before delivering a hail of haymakers to the tune of 6 3-pointers– four of his own while collapsing the defense and finding Gary Trent Jr. and Robert Covington for 2 more as Portland beat the Thunder 115-104 for its fifth straight win. This step-back over Lu Dort, which effectively sealed the video game, was flat out humorous.
Lillard did the exact same thing to Dallas on Sunday, scoring 7 points over a one-minute stretch to nab a victory from the Mavs, who had eliminated a 13- point deficit in the 4th quarter. This step-back shown to be the game-winner with 32 seconds staying.
These sequences work as a microcosm for the existing state of the Blazers: Having a hard time to survive, rescued by Lillard, who is back to his superhero ways in keeping Portland in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture despite injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
But Lillard just won’t let it take place. In those clutch minutes, Lillard has now scored 74 overall points, tops in the league, while shooting 60 percent from the field, 56 percent from 3 and 100 percent (23- for-23) from the free-throw line. If Kyrie wants to know what swimming to prevent being sucked down the Western Conference whirlpool really looks like, he ought to glimpse over at Lillard’s circumstance.
If you want to make Lillard’s MVP case, which is ending up being impossible to neglect, that would be a good location to begin.
Nikola Jokic is at or near the top of everybody’s MVP list, even though Lillard ranks greater in ESPN’s Genuine Plus-Minus, and even as the Nuggets, with a far better roster than Portland’s at the minute, are now 2 games worse than the Blazers after falling to the Celtics Tuesday night.
It simply can’t be overstated that Lillard is doing this without McCollum, whose lack has been especially felt.
There has actually been a Lillard load-management conversation occurring within Blazers circles. In essence, the argument for not pressing Lillard too hard is the Blazers’ season seemed on the verge of death when McCollum and Nurkic went down.
You can not sit Lillard now.
Individuals will state Lillard stressed out in the playoffs last season, and that if Terry Stotts doesn’t want that to occur again this season, he ‘d better think ahead. For beginners, I’m not exactly sure Lillard totally stressed out. He took the Lakers out in Game 1. The Lakers were simply too much in the end.
However if he did stress out some, I would more attribute that to the two-week-Michael Johnson-200- meter sprint he had to go on just to get Portland into the play-in series vs. Memphis. If the Blazers can keep winning at a good rate until McCollum and Nurkic return, they might discover themselves with adequate cushion to not have to red-line Lillard down the stretch while winding up with a more winnable first-round series.
From there, you take your possibilities. And with a healthy Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, and a defense with the personnel to maybe play above its analytical profile depending upon the playoff matchup, they aren’t the worst possibilities worldwide.