Lillard's game-winner made sure fatigue, little sleep wasn't enough to keep Blazers down

Lillard's game-winner made sure fatigue, little sleep wasn't enough to keep Blazers down
December 15, 2013, 8:00 pm
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Damian Lillard talks game winning shot

AUBURN HILLS -- “We had every excuse in the book to use but I think guys didn’t use it tonight,” LaMarcus Aldridge said after a 27 point, 12 rebound performance. “We came in and we beat a good team.”


They arrived in Detroit at two in the morning and didn’t make it to their hotels until 3 a.m. Most didn’t fall asleep until around 3:30 – 4:00 a.m. The Portland Trail Blazers played last night in Philly and tip-off was at 8 p.m.


Veteran guard Earl Watson said he has never in his 13 NBA years played a game at 8 p.m. Let alone, get up the next day for an early 6 a.m. contest.


Detroit’s last game was Friday, two nights ago. They were well rested and waiting for Portland. They had them right where they wanted them. At least, that’s what they thought.


Those were the circumstances and this is what occurred.


Going into the overtime period, Damian Lillard was four-for-18 from the field. To be frank: he was off. However, that didn’t stop him from having a huge impact on this game. As long as there’s time left, Lillard says he feels like he’s always on the verge of doing something special.


All tied at 109 in overtime with 13.3 seconds remaining, the Trail Blazers came out of a timeout and the play was for a Lillard-Aldridge pick-and-roll/pop in order to have the two best players involved on what would be the final shot of the game.


“It was the same play we ran the last three or four times,” head coach Terry Stotts said. “Space the court and have shooters in the game.”


Aldridge came over and set the pick but Rodney Stuckey did a great job of fighting through it, staying with Lillard. Lillard then proceeded to drive left but was cut off. He then spun to his right and took a tough, turnaround, contested 14-footer that fell through the bottom of the net leaving nothing but .1 seconds on the clock.


After facing a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Portland had stormed back to win the game in overtime 111-109.


“It doesn’t matter if I’m 0-for-16, when the game is on the line, I’m raising up and shooting,” Lillard said after scoring eight of his 23 points in overtime. “I’m not shying away from no shots.”


Lillard, no stranger to pressurized moments, described what it was like hitting that game-winning shot and shutting the crowd up in the process.


“The crowd was trying to get into a little bit so when I made it, I saw it was .1 seconds left and I was [thinking] like, ‘let me see what they got to say now.’ I stopped and stared at them. And it was quiet.”


Ever since Lillard entered the league, he has had this calming influence about him and never seems to get rattled. Opposing coaches often praise him for his poise. Where does that all come from? How can a young player enter a league full of established men and believe that he is one of the best in the game even before stepping foot on an NBA floor?


For special moments such as tonight, Lillard says he is how he is because of his pops Houston Lillard.


“My dad always made sure I had that confidence in myself. He would be like ‘what are you worried about? It’s a game. You’re going to come home to love anyway no matter how you play. You’re going to get love and loyalty from your family so go out there and have fun.’ I just always kept that with me. My dad always believed in me so I was forced to believe in myself.”


And this team believes in him to put the ball in his hands when it matters. Not to make any excuses, but Portland was fatigued entering tonight’s game for all the several reasons mentioned. To come in and have enough energy to put away a team on the road in overtime took resolve and mental toughness.


“I was tired. Even though I didn’t play the whole game last night, I was just tired [from] getting in late and my nap was short. I was sluggish, but guys found a way.”


How tired were they, you asked?


 “I definitely thought I was on my last leg about to just pass out,” Aldridge said. “I was tired tonight. I even told the guys if we would have had one more defensive possession, I probably would have just passed out because I was tired.”


Aldridge will have plenty of time to pass out now as the team heads to Cleveland tonight. But they wont take them on until Tuesday night in the first game of another back-to-back meeting that will conclude in Minnesota.


This team continues to find ways to pull out victories. Last night it was the franchise record 21 threes. They only went nine-of-27 from three but their defensive fourth quarter that stifled the Pistons into scoring 15 points on 33 percent shooting was the key tonight.


A calm, cool and collected point guard is rubbing off on the team. It's exactly what this team is turning out to be: calm, cool and collected. Is this 21-4 record a fluke?


“We’ll see what people say in March,” Lillard said confidently.