Even though he's not considered one of the top MVP candidates, Damian Lillard is playing like one. One of the most underestimated superstars in the league torched the New Orleans Pelicans with 43 points (one less than his season record) and dished out career-high 16 assists.
In the last two minutes, he scored eight points. Dame scored or assisted 21 out of 23 final points for the Trail Blazers. The culmination of one of his best games was at the end. Lillard went around Lonzo Ball, made the layup, and converted the foul to give Portland a crucial 126-124 lead with 16 seconds on the clock.
"I knew that they was going to try to change their coverages and be up a little higher. So I was telling (Jones Jr.), come set it up on this side because we had a single side on my left. I was just gonna counter the screen and go away from the crowd, and because of that, the help didn't come over, and it was me and 'Zo one-on-one. I took the contact, just a finish, and that was that". Lillard said post-game.
Damian Lillard, NBA.com
Since he came into the league, this was the 25th time that he had either tied a game or made a shot in the final 20 seconds of the game, more than any player in that period.
If anyone doesn't think Lillard is clutch (5-point games in the last five minutes), here are more numbers that confirm his case. In this season, Dames has scored 82 points (1st) in the clutch with 63.2% field goal (1st, min. 15 attempts) and 58.8% 3-point (1st, min. 15 attempts) success. Also, he scored 100% of his free throws in crunch-time. We can all agree with what Derrick Jones Jr. said after the Pelicans game:
"Dame is different. He come out of nowhere at the end of quarters, end of games, not missing. That doesn't seem humanly possible to me."
Derrick Jones Jr., NBA.com
A lot of people are starting to see Dame as the best ever to wear a Portland jersey. In the post-game interview, Dame was asked what he thinks he has to do to be the best Trail Blazer.
"The pride that I have and how much I want to bring the championship for this city is at the top. I think if I win a championship, it's a wrap."
Damian Lilard, postgame
Most people would say it's a wrap even if he doesn't win a championship. I'd agree.