OKLAHOMA CITY — With 5 minutes and 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Damian Lillard hit a man in the hip with a shot with the left foot after two hard dribbles, and fed a pass to defender Al Horford.
It was a one-point game with the Oklahoma City Thunder leading, and as Lillard does, he presses the eject button to get up and shoot Horford in the face, making the Lady of Time mythical.
The problem is, he was 1 in 9 to 3 before that point. It wasn’t a typical Lillard match, with a barrage of logo shots and eye-popping rim trim. He was small, he was on the left, he was on the right. And about Horford… This one just missed the target and ran away.
In recent months, Lillard has bolstered the Blazers, carrying the burden of clutch time on his shoulders and trying to integrate young talents like Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Nasir Little. But the big dots, the precise plans, those are Lillard’s.
But with the cold Oklahoma air, so cold that the state had an electrical emergency with almost all arena lights out except the one that lit the ground, Lillard was frozen. And not in a good way.
The Thunder, as they have done many times this season, and their young players stay in the game long enough to exhaust their opponents with their energy and athletic ability. Hamidou Diallo jumps to the floor, Lou Dort plows the snow off the edge. A new 20-point lead by the Blazers led to a five-point deficit with four minutes left. Before Lady Time, it was a point… or never.
There are concerns, Mr. Lillard admitted. He said he looked at the scoreboard as the Blazers’ lead dwindled to 93-84 and hoped his team would make two triple quick ones to contain the Thunder’s run and then take over for an easy touchdown.
But I do: It would be a difficult loss for us. We played so well. But when I got back on the set, I was like. he says, take a break.
I never thought there was a game I couldn’t control, he said. When I’m here, I can feel how hard the defense is trying to stop me. When I see how vigilant and active they are to stop me, I see that they are concerned. They’re worried about me firing the bullet right or wrong. And it’s an even bigger mental problem for me that even though they know I’m not sexy, they still care, and I want to show them why they should care. And why would they still be nervous.
Enes Kanter comments on Damian Lillard’s stunning play, claiming to have never seen anything like it.
His first late game, the third, was at 4:11 and Dort went to the wrong pump. Lillard took the dribble and calmly lowered it. The Thunder fought back and closed out the game with a score of 23-4 to open the fourth quarter for OKC. Now wary, Thunder put Trent in Turn 3 for the next run, and the Blazers gave him the lead again.
On the next possession, Lillard worked to shake off Dort and shut him up. He leaned over to a quick breakout from Isaiah Roby and hit under the net. Some time later, Lillard had Dort locked up in solitary confinement. A tenacious defender who worked tirelessly to chase down Lillard, Dort was left behind with every snap, every decimeter, every scythe. As shooting time expired, Lillard took a big step backwards to get to 3 with a little slider and a little extra arc because of the stellar defense. Anyway… it was Lady Time. Two plays later, Lillard struck again for the official dagger that gave the Blazers their fifth win in a row, 115-104 over OKC.
Lillard started the game 1 in 10 from 3-point range. He finished on 4 out of 4. A normal game of 31 points with seven rebounds and 10 assists and a win.
He’s like a con man – I’ve never seen anything like him, Enes Kanter said. And I’ve played with some very, very good players. But I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s wild.
The Dame Time mentality is well documented, and Lillard has been answering questions about it since his famous first clutch shot fell – in 2014 to destroy the Houston Rockets. But on Tuesday, he opened a partial of a unfinished state of mind to take large moments of his personal play with himself.
I don’t know why, he said, I just do.
Stephen A. Smith apologizes for Damian Lillard’s outstanding performance this season.
The attention of the defenders, the fear he hears in the voices of the assistant coaches begging the players to follow him, can serve as an injection of confidence for Lillard, even if the shot doesn’t fall.
In times like these, that’s reassuring, Mr. Lillard said. Sometimes I don’t get enough. Sometimes they do really well, or the shots don’t go through, but at those times I think maybe when they go off the field they come back and say: That’s why we wanted you to do it, so it wouldn’t happen to us. I want to do it with the other team.
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Lillard says he can’t remember exactly when he started playing these mind games with himself – maybe in the second season, he says – and he has no explanation as to how he mentally came to record it.
He said he was an intern. You just ask. You’re just asking a little bit more of yourself. Nothing from [Blazers head coach] [Terry] Stotts, nothing from [NBA development coach] Phil Beckner, nothing like that. It’s just inside, that’s who I am: I have to find a way. It’s an opportunity to move up the career ladder.
Lillard is on his knees facing Dort at the end of the third quarter and struggles for a long time to get away from him. The Blazers created a foul so he could see her back on the bench, and even after her return, Lillard watched him rub and bend his knee at times. It was a brief moment of shock for the Blazers, who were already dealing with exhaustion. These departures have given some young players a chance to develop, which could benefit the team in the long run, but as last postseason showed, without Lillard there is no Lady Time and therefore no Blazers.
Therefore, he accepts and understands the responsibility that rests on him, especially without the injured C.J. McCollum. And even on a night when that didn’t happen, Lillard’s inner voice spoke to him, telling him that for a moment there was a possibility.
That’s what I told myself, and often I didn’t have time to do it. But that’s the reality, he says. I always talk to myself that way. You must find a way. I think you should go. They didn’t shoot well all the time, but it’s a new start. I always talk to myself that way.
Freeze. In a good way.
frequently asked questions
What is the duration of Damian Lillard’s contract?
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers have agreed on a four-year, $196 million contract extension, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. According to Per Charania, the deal brings the total value of Lillard’s contract to six years and up to $258 million, with an average annual salary of $43 million.
To what extent was Damian Lillard shot?
Damian Lillard has made more shots from 30 to 40 feet this season than any other player or team in the NBA. Lillard has taken far more shots in depth than any other player, so he should be compared more to the team as a whole – and yet there is no comparison.
How long has Damian Lillard been with the Blazers?
Damian Lillard – Wikipedia
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