Having watched that last shot of Game 6 dozens of times, it's become obvious to me that while the lion's share of credit for Dame Lillard's series-winning buzzer-beater should of course go to Dame himself, two other men should be thanked by Rip City for their crucial roles in facilitating Lillard's heroics: James Harden and Kevin McHale.
It was Harden who, just before the whistle was blown to initiate game action, signaled to Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons to switch defensive assignments, with Parsons ending up responsible for Lillard. Why did Harden do this? Did he believe the switch would give the Rockets a more advantageous situation on the expected double screen? Did McHale assign it this way, and Harden simply had his teammates get on their proper mark? Did the Rockets seriously expect Mo Williams, whom Beverley ended up guarding, to be the Blazers' preferred option for the last shot, when Lillard had already made a name for himself in these situations? Who knows? But it was a curious action by Harden, to say the least.
Could Beverley, playing with a bum knee and fighting the lingering effects of flu, have stayed step-for-step with Dame and forced a tougher attempt, or caused Batum to throw the ball to Aldridge instead? I'm not sure. But the point is that Parsons appeared to have barely gotten set on his new assignment when the whistle was blown, and Dame got that crucial first step he needed to create the easiest possible attempt in that situation. Parsons knew he was beat almost immediately and it was almost sad to see him flail futilely at the attempt, the ball already well into its trajectory toward the hoop.
That wasn't Harden's only error on the play. Having initiated the ill-fated switch, he also stood stock-still as Lillard outpaced Parsons and ran toward Batum, furiously clapping his hands. This despite the fact that he was the closest defender to the spot toward which Lillard was running, meaning he could have at least run at Dame and forced Batum to make a longer, tougher pass toward Matthews or Williams. Nor was Harden visibly screened by Matthews. Instead, he just watched everything happen. On the biggest defensive stand of the season, that's what Harden did: stand.
Finally, let's give "credit" to Kevin McHale for leaving Harden in the game for the final shot, despite Harden's well-documented defensive indifference and utter lack of any scenario in which Harden's offensive or foul-shooting skills would be needed. Virtually anyone on the bench at the moment -- Jeremy Lin, Troy Daniels, Fran-freaking-cisco Garcia -- would've played more alert, effective defense in that situation than what Harden showed.
This is exactly the kind of thing -- superior decision-making, effort, and execution in crucial moments -- that allowed the Blazers to take this series despite being outscored overall. We're going to have to play even better to beat the Spurs, because the Spurs simply do not do things like what Houston did on Lillard's shot and at other times in the first round.
Thank you, James Harden and Kevin McHale. And go Blazers!