Blazersedge is adding a special twist to the "top plays" phenomenon this off-season. Rather than arbitrarily choosing top plays we're going to create a list of "favorite moments of the season" as determined by the fans. Over the next few weeks we'll be putting together articles with 5-10 plays from various categories and readers will have the opportunity to vote on their favorites. Once voting ends for all categories we'll compile a list of the top vote getters. As you're voting, keep in mind that we are looking for the fan favorites and not necessarily best or most important plays of the season, so feel free to vote for the moments that stand out most to you even if they haven't generally been listed on other top play lists.
Today we're going to kick things off by voting for favorite clutch plays of the season. Thanks in large part to Damian Lillard, and the semi-occasional roaring comeback, the Portland Trail Blazers and their fans became accustomed to big plays down the stretch of games during the 2014-15 season. Below, you'll find a list of key clutch moments, with a brief explanation of how the play was contextually important to this season. Many games had several clutch plays, but we'll be limiting each game to one top moment so as to get a full snapshot of the season.
Clutch play #1: Wesley Matthews' 3-pointer against New Orleans on November 17.
This year's team made a habit of falling behind early and digging themselves out of holes in the second halves of games. Their "never say die" attitude became a key feature of the Blazers during the early part of the season. That attitude was on full display on November 17 against New Orleans when the Blazers outscored the Pelicans 34-13 in the final quarter to pick up a 102-93 victory. The key turning point occurred when Wesley Matthews nailed a clutch 3 to tie the game at 91 with less than three minutes to go; the Blazers would never trail again. Wes may not have the clutch pedigree of Damian Lillard, or even LaMarcus Aldridge, but this season he solidified himself as a player that must be respected when the game is on the line, while also embodying the never surrender mantra of the 2015 Blazers.
Clutch Play #2: Aldridge dishes to RoLo to beat Denver on December 2
On December 2 the Blazers were tied at 103 against the Nuggets with 4.3 seconds to go. Aldridge had been red hot, collecting 39 points and 11 rebounds - everyone in the building expected him to get the final shot. But Coach Terry Stotts threw a curveball and drew up a play for fifth option Robin Lopez. RoLo would execute a masterful seal of J.J. Hickson, receive a pass from Aldridge, and flip in an easy layup to get the Blazers the win. Lopez is never going to have the clutch resume or offensive skills of Arvydas Sabonis, but on this night he played his role to perfection and used solid big man fundamentals to win the game. The play was a microcosm of the value RoLo has in Portland's system. He's good enough on offense that the other team can't ignore him and thus acts as a great "safety valve" when the opposition bottles up the primary options.
Clutch play #3: Lillard vs. San Antonio December 20
I've included the full highlight reel because it's almost impossible to pick a key play from this instant super classic. There's no wrong chose when your options are Lillard's drive and score on Duncan, Lillard's 3 to force the second OT, Wes' great D on Manu, Blake's killer 3, etc. Ultimately, the sequence I settled on for voting was the Lillard three pointer on a missed shot, followed by Wes stifling Manu Ginobili's attempt to win it (video is queued to the beginning of the sequence). It may be cheating to choose two plays, but Damian hitting a clutch three on a tapped out offensive rebound and then Wes putting the clamps down to prevent the Spurs bucket was this season's Blazers at their best.
Clutch play #4: Lillard invents Lillard time against OKC on December 23
Fresh off his other-wordly performance down the stretch against San Antonio, Lillard did it again against Oklahoma City by hitting a key three to tie the game in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. The shot was a carbon copy of his famous .9 shot against Houston in the 2014 playoffs and led to instant Internet-fame as fans scrambled to construct side by side .gifs of the two plays. Throw in the now-patented "What time is it? Lillard time!" wristwatch celebration and it was clear that Lillard's star had never shone brighter. The two game outburst briefly catapulted him into the NBA MVP discussion and cemented his status as one of the up and coming stars in the NBA. Lillard would cool off as the season rolled into the 2015 calendar year, but the shot against OKC served to tell the league that .9 was no fluke.
Clutch play #5: Damian Lillard's routine layup helps the Blazers sneak past the Lakers.
An ongoing discussion on Blazersedge this year debated whether or not the Blazers were guilty of playing down to their opposition. While some believed that criticism was overstated, it was undeniably accurate on January 5 against the Lakers. On a night when the Blazers should have run away with an easy victory against a Kobe-less LA squad they let injuries to Lopez and Joel Freeland, as well as some lethargic play, affect them too much. Ultimately Portland needed 39 points from Lillard and this clutch layup to pull out the win and remind us that, even on a bad night, a mostly intact 2014-15 Blazers squad could still pull out some wins.
Note: This one is on the list partially because no list is complete without a "Blazers > L*kers" moment. Some readers are probably clamoring for a different Lillard play(s) in this spot, and I can guarantee that those plays will show up in future articles.
Clutch play #6: Damian dunks vs. Sacramento on January 19
LaMarcus Aldridge injured his thumb against Sacramento on January 19, but the Blazers pulled out the win anyway. The key played occurred with 36 seconds to go when Lillard split two defenders and soared into the lane for a monster dunk to give the Blazers a 95-92 lead. Portland would prevail 98-94, after outscoring Sacramento 31-19 in the final frame. This play stands out in contrast to the previous Lillard plays on this list by highlighting his improved ability to get into the lane, and finish around the rim.
The post game interview also had the best .gif of the season.
Clutch play #7: Aldridge steals the ball and secures the win against Washington January 24.
It's rare that the fans gets a true view into the mind of a player. Most NBA players have been overcoached by PR staffers to the point that post game comments usually become a list of clichés highlighting the already apparent.
On January 24 against Washington the Portland fans were fortunate enough to get an authentic look at LaMarcus Aldridge; by choosing to play through a torn tendon in his right thumb Aldridge was giving his fans, teammates, and coaches a clear sign that he believed the Blazers could make a title run this season. This was LA's personal declaration that the critics deriding the Blazers as jump-shooting pretenders were wrong. The league hadn't seen a player back up words with actions this bold since Jason Terry's biceps tattoo. And then LA followed it up with 26 points and 9 rebounds against the Wizards. When Aldridge capped the performance by grabbing the key steal to clinch the game in the final seconds and the Moda Center crowd showered him with MVP chants, it became clear that his belief in the team had been passed along to those watching.
Clutch play #8: Nic Batum completely dominates against the Clippers
After a mostly disappointing season, Nicolas Batum tantalized Portland fans with a dominant performance in overtime against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 4. In the closing minutes of overtime Batum would throw three consecutive alley-oops, block a Clippers' layup, and hit a game clinching triple. It was an overwhelming performance that reminded Portland fans why Batum earns more than $10 million a season. Unfortunately, this performance came on one of Lillard's worst nights of the season and was symbolic of the Blazers' inability to put together simultaneously good performances from their entire roster.
Please vote for your favorite clutch moment in the poll below and add your opinion to the discussion in the comments!