Lillard talks back to back game winning shots
CLEVELAND – “He did it again,” is what Nicolas Batum said after Damian Lillard connected on a long, buzzer-beating, game-winning three that gave the Portland Trail Blazers a 119-116 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday night.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters did a phenomenal job in the closing minutes of getting the Cavs (9-15) back into the game when it seemed Portland was going to walk away victorious. It was all tied at 116 with 7.1 seconds remaining on the clock.
Portland (22-4) inbounded the ball from the side out of a timeout and Lillard received the pass. Alonzo Gee, a tough rugged defender, had the assignment of checking Lillard. There was no pick coming. Lillard was all by himself as he dribbled the clock down before hitting Gee with a stutter-step that froze him for a split second.
The next thing you knew, Lillard had rose up for a three at the top of the key and it splashed in, leaving a mere .4 seconds left on the clock. It was his second game-winning shot in as many games and just like he did in Detroit, he immediately focused his attention on the crowd with a mean-mugging expression glued to his face with teammates draped all over him.
“I just want to see the reaction of the fans,” Lillard said. “That’s it. I want to see if they’re still into the game.”
Nothing to see here, people. Just another one of my clutch moments, was the vibe you got from Lillard’s demeanor after he nailed that three, his eighth of the game, that gave him a game-high 36 points to go along with a career-high eight rebounds and 10 assists.
“I said he looked like Gilbert Arenas,” LaMarcus Aldridge said after scoring 26 points, grabbing 15 boards and dishing out four assists. “I haven’t seen a guy take a shot like that and make it so easy since Gil. He definitely was big tonight. He carried us at times and he made a big shot for us tonight and we needed it.”
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It could be Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook or as in tonight, Kyrie Irving. If you don’t know by now, Damian Lillard isn’t going to play second fiddle to nobody. Much hoopla was made out of the point guard matchup between Lillard and Irving when in reality nothing changes.
Lillard’s goal every game is to get the win first and foremost, but in the process, he wants to make sure he is giving the other team’s point guard pure, unsaturated hell.
“I’ve never backed down from anybody,” he told CSNNW.com. “I’ve never backed down from my cousins or my brothers. And that’s just not basketball. That’s period. I never have and I’m not going to start now. When my team is on the floor, I want to be the best point guard that night.”
Lillard’s superstardom is soaring before our very eyes. When he finished his postgame media obligations, he picked up the phone and was instantly on Sports Center. That’s how hot this kid is right now after consecutive game-winning buckets.
“Damian had it going,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “…He had a special night and I thought it was appropriate that he finished it like that.”
Wesley Matthews put up 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Batum chipped in with 17 points, nine rebounds and Mo Williams scored nine points off the bench.
Kyrie Irving supplied 25 points and nine assists. Dion Waiters led all reserves with 25 points.
Portland posses the best record in the NBA, a full game over the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder who are tied with a record of 20-4. The Trail Blazers have beaten both of those teams already this season.
Lillard desires to be the best point guard in the game, but he knows that won’t be attainable unless he’s leading his team to victories on a night-to-night basis. He won the individual showdown with Irving tonight, but he knows the win was more important for the team and for himself.
“I want to show people that I can lead a team that’s winning,” Lillard said. “It’s early right now and we’ve been winning games, but I want to keep winning. The best point guards, their teams win, so my thing is wanting to win more than anything else and that’s why I’m always going to put my best foot forward.”
As long as Lillard continues to issue out gut-wrenching daggers on his opponents and their fans, he’ll continue to soar up that point guard ladder. He has put himself in a position where his teammates trust him with the game on the line. He’s earned their respect.
“I think the whole team trust Dame down the stretch,” Aldridge said. “He makes big shots. He believes he can make big shots. I think that’s the first part of it, believing you can make the shot and he thinks he can make every shot. I’m never worried.”
I think this Lillard kid is going to be okay in this league.