We’ve all seen this picture before. The moment Damian Lillard rose up for the game-winner, it seemed like the world stopped spinning for just a blip. Approximately, 2.3 seconds later, the buzzer sounded and the ball dropped into the bucket for a 118-115 win. The 4-1 series win pushed the Portland Trailblazers into the second round. How did all that time come off the clock for a simple jump shot? Well, Lillard released his long-range bomb from 37 feet right in the eye of a salty Paul George.
For the most part, George was right. “That’s a bad shot. I don’t care what anybody says. That’s a bad shot. But, hey, he made it. That story won’t be told, that it’s a bad shot. You live with that.” Obviously, George was stunned by how the events unfolded in Game 5. However, he still didn’t understand exactly what Lillard was trying to accomplish.
With the game tied, the Portland Trailblazers were able to hold for the last shot of the game. In case most basketball players and fans don’t understand- the last shot means taking the final shot before the buzzer sounds. It doesn’t mean taking the shot with three seconds left, giving the opponent an opportunity for a rebound and a last second heave. It doesn’t mean driving to the lane early, getting stripped and begging for a foul with five seconds left. In fact, Lillard was conscious of the refs not wanting to make a critical call late in the game. Therefore, he dribbled the clock down and got comfortable with a shot that he worked on during individual workouts.
Furthermore, Lillard was scorching the nets throughout most of the game. The game-winner gave him 50 points on the night. The shot became his 10th 3-pointer in the game. Overall, Lillard shot 17 of 33 from the field. He was 10 of 18 from 3-point range. He also dished out 6 assists and grabbed 7 rebounds in a thorough effort. Lillard also accounted for three steals in the closeout game. But why did he have to do so much?
First and foremost, the Oklahoma City Thunder came out with vengeance on their mind. They earned multiple 10-point leads in the first quarter. C.J. McCollum also got in early foul trouble and only played 9 minutes in the first half. Therefore, it was up to Lillard to keep the Trailblazers within striking distance early. Once he became hot, it became the Lillard show on the offensive side of the ball.
Yet, Seth Curry made a 3-pointer to give the Trailblazers their first lead of the game (56-55) with 1:42 left in the first half. Enes Kanter also made a layup and got to the foul line with six seconds left. He made the first. Kanter also made the second, but a lane violation on Al-Farouq Aminu wiped away the point. That’s when George threw up a fairly uncontested 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Instead of having a 5-point lead, the Blazers went into the break with a one-point lead. Yet, it was far better than what people thought it could have been.
Lillard began the second half with a 3-point make. McCollum even made his first 3-point attempt of the second half. However, the first seven minutes of the third quarter was played on an even playing field. The game was tied at 75 when Kanter’s layup started what seemed to be another devastating run for the Blazers. Lillard’s corner step back three culminated a 9-0 run that led to a Thunder timeout. They were up 84-75 with around 3:20 left in the third quarter. The Trailblazers were roughly 15 minutes away from earning a spot in the second-round. Well, an entire game was played in those final 15 minutes.
In fact, the Trailblazers were on the verge of selling out in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Moments after the timeout, George attempted a 3-pointer, the miss led to an offensive rebound, giving George another chance for a 3-point attempt. He connected and the run was on. The Thunder went on a 32-8 run, taking a 107-92 lead on Jerami Grant’s layup. The Westbrook assist gave him a triple double. The crowd was stunned. However, there was still plenty of time for the explosive scoring home team.
McCollum started the comeback with a floater. Maurice Harkless caught a wide open dunk from a Lillard assists to cut the lead to 11. On the next possession, Lillard found Harkless for another dunk to trim the lead to single digits. Then Kanter’s layup made it an eight point game with 5:14 left. Just like that- the Trailblazers trimmed seven points off the lead. Lillard made a huge 3-pointer to cut the lead to five. However, Westbrook answered with a 3-pointer to push the lead back up to eight.
The Thunder still had an eight point lead with 3:55 left in the game on George’s layup. Unfortunately, the Thunder would only score two more points for the rest of the game. Furthermore, McCollum scored 6 of the next 8 points to help tie the game. Once again, he hit back to back shots including a floater from the left baseline off the glass. The lead was down to four with 1:39 left. The Thunder fouled Harkless on a defensive rebound. He made both free throws to make it a two-point game. Then McCollum made another mid-range jumpshot to tie the score 113 with 57 seconds left.
In the middle of this run, George missed a pair of foul shots. However, George made the go-ahead jump shot to give the Thunder their final lead of the game. That’s the moment when Lillard took over the game. After a timeout, he coasted to the hoop for a reverse layup to tie the score. The quick shot led to a 2-for-1 possession. Portland earned another defensive stop which led to Lillard’s final dagger of the season.
There was no timeout. There wasn’t a rush. And there wasn’t a double team. It was just Lillard and George 37 feet away from the basket. Now, the Trailblazers await the winner of the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs.