March 6, 2018, 2:42 am
Almost nothing was going right for the Portland Trail Blazers midway through the fourth quarter on Monday night. They were outscored 25-15 in the third by the Los Angeles Lakers, losing a narrow halftime lead. Portland couldn’t stop fouling, had no answer for Julius Randle and was missing the easy shots that would have cut into Los Angeles’ 97-86 lead with 5:26 remaining. Not every game can be won, and streaks always come to an end. It just didn’t seem like the Blazers’ night.
Well, at least until Damian Lillard decided otherwise. Portland’s superstar guard scored 19 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, including a string of four consecutive 3-pointers, to bring his team back from a double-digit deficit and beat the Lakers 108-103. With their seventh straight victory, the Blazers move to 38-26 and get a win against one of the last teams on their schedule with a losing record.
Lillard was the hero, but he wasn’t the only one that kept Portland afloat or contributed to its game-deciding 22-6 run. Jusuf Nurkic battled early foul trouble and struggled finishing around the rim at times, but owned the glass and was a defensive force in the paint from the opening tip. He finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and three assists, and made two free throws in the final 90 seconds in between Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two of the league’s best foul shooters, misfiring on 3-of-4 freebies combined. McCollum had 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, and pushed the Blazers to a 14-point lead in the first half by taking the shot-making and playmaking reins when his All-Star teammate was struggling. Ed Davis chipped in with nine points and six rebounds, and Shabazz Napier made two of the game’s biggest plays in its final seconds.
But he wouldn’t have had that opportunity if not for Lillard’s from-nowhere outburst. His first points of a 15-0 individual scoring run come on a pair of free throws with 4:44 left that cut Los Angeles’ lead to six. Portland’s next possession was a harbinger of things to come, as Lillard dribbled up the floor and drilled a deep three in Lonzo Ball‘s face. He needed just a little more help for the next one, using a ball screen from Al-Farouq Aminu to draw a switch by Randle before pulling up for three from the left wing. Tie game. Then Lillard drained a three just inside half-court logo after a handoff from Nurkic, giving Portland its first lead since the opening minute of the second half. After a bucket by Kyle Kuzma, Lillard bailed his team out of a disjointed possession by catching late in the clock on the left wing and connecting on his fourth straight triple.
Description, though, doesn’t do iconic performances proper justice. One of the most memorable sequences of Lillard’s career to date deserves all the eyes it could possibly get.
4 possessions. 4 straight triples.
Damian Lillard had the hot hand late in LA! pic.twitter.com/54uQ2U8ahH
— NBA (@NBA) March 6, 2018
Yet somehow, the game wasn’t quite over. A triple by Ball tied the score at 103-103 on the ensuing possession, and Lillard only made one of two at the line during the Blazers’ next trip down Nurkic’s pair of free throws gave Portland a three-point lead with 1:16 left, and the teams traded misses from there before a pair of offensive rebound set the stage for McCollum to put Los Angeles away for good as the game clock read 7.7 seconds. Clank, clank.
It was finally over when Napier, taking a huge risk in a game where whistles were heard far too often, stripped Isaiah Thomas as the 5-foot-9 guard rose for a game-tying 3-point attempt. He made both free throws after getting fouled, giving the Blazers one of their most exciting wins of the 2017-18 season.
After the game, Terry Stotts acknowledged what an increasing majority of league followers have come to know over the last six weeks, and what Lakers fans were forced to realize after watching Lillard, who had 39 points, five rebounds and six assists on 12-of-25 from the field, snatch incredible victory from the jaws of humbling defeat.
“Damian Lillard is special,” he said. “If it’s not obvious, I’ll say it.”