As basketball is evolving, so are the metrics that monitor the players and their contribution. The problem is that today we have too much debate about advanced analytics or stats and much less about the game and players’ skills. The game should be about moments in which you know you witnessed greatness. You can’t find those things looking at boxscores and stat sheets. The offense is the reason why we turn on the tv or pay for the tickets. On this day two years ago, Damian Lillard gave us that heart-stopping moment.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been swept in the previous two postseason stints (in 2017 against Golden State and 2018 against New Orleans), so Lillard‘s team had something to prove against OKC in the first round of the 2019 Western Conference playoffs. Leading into game five, the two teams had some tight battles, and, among other things, Lillard’s and Russell Westbrooks‘s animosity intensified the rivalry. Portland fought their way to a 3-1 lead, and they had the chance to seal the win on home court. OKC with Westbrook and Paul George desperately wanted to keep their championship hopes alive.
The game couldn’t start better for the Thunder – they’ve racked up a 10-point lead, and Portland’s CJ McCollum got into early foul trouble. In other words, Lillard had to carry the load for his back-court partner. Westbrook and George also knew that, so they were all over him most of the game, but Dame didn’t back down. Shot after shot, Lillard filled OKC’s basket.
Less than two minutes to go, Portland was trailing by six points. Then McCollum stepped in and leveled the score at 113-113 with one minute to go. After George and Lillard exchanged baskets, Westbrook missed a shot, and the ball was in Lillard’s hands with 16 seconds left on the clock.
Lillard dribbled the ball down the court, and right after passing the halfway line, he stopped. George was on him but didn’t exactly take him seriously; he didn’t think Dame would pull up nearly from the logo. With two seconds remaining, Lillard did just that – he made a step to the right, 37 feet from the basket, and made the shot at the buzzer. Moda Center erupted; Lillard waved goodbye to the OKC bench and got knocked to the floor. It was one of the best playoffs shots ever and one of the best basketball memes – Lillard kept his calm face as his teammates smothered him.
Portland’s hero scored 50 points that night (including ten three-pointers), grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out six assists. After the game, George said it was “a bad shot,” but he changed his mind this year after seeing Lillard’s range at the All-Star game. For Lillard, there was no doubt – the second he released the ball from his hands, he knew it was going in.