Parents, hide your children - Damian Lillard is on the loose. He doesn't care about your plans, your expectations, your feelings, your wants or your needs. He cares about winning basketball games, and Sunday's 115-110 improbable comeback over the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely go down as one of the most entertaining in the 25-year-old All-Star's young career. It might not be quite on the same level as Tracy McGrady's historic 13 points in 35 seconds against the Spurs back in 2004, or hold the playoff significance of Reggie Miller's infamous 8 points in 9 seconds to beat the Knicks in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semis, but will no doubt become a fixture of Blazer lore for years to come.
Portland and OKC both came out sloppy, getting the looks they wanted but struggling to string points together consistently. The Thunder were clearly aware of the Blazers' intent to run and forced their offense into the half-court, where results were so-so. Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard and Al-Farouq Aminu each knocked down threes in the early running, but not much else would stay down. Ed Davis cleaned up the mess and kept it close with some much needed second-chance points.
OKC crept to a 27-26 lead after the first, but it hadn't been done by the usual onslaught of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook - that would come later. Westbrook acted primarily as a distributor in the first half, scoring only one field goal, but doling out 10 assists while Durant shouldered his usual load. Despite his efforts, Portland rode a balanced attack and some hustle from Davis to lead at intermission 52-46, despite only three points from Lillard.
The Blazers looked like they might have busted the game open later during the third after Lillard opened the period with eight straight points to extend the lead to to 10 at 65-55, but the Thunder answered with a 27-9 run over the next five minutes which catapulted them ahead 82-74. Westbrook scored 14 in the quarter, mostly by getting himself to the free throw line, Durant added 13 and for several minutes Portland had no answer for either of them.
The Thunder took a five point lead into the final frame at 85-80 and maintained the advantage for most of the period. The hot shooting of Durant and Westbrook started to cool off from the "everything they look at goes in" levels from the third, which left the door open for the Blazers to make a run.
That run came in impressive fashion; Down by eight with 3:05 remaining, Lillard led a flurry of a comeback, scoring 17 points to sweep OKC off its feet and rally the Blazers to one of the most exciting sequences in recent memory. From that point onward here are Portland's next six possessions:
3:05 - Lillard-three
2:38 - Lillard-three
2:11 - Lillard-three
2:00 - Crabbe-three
1:31 - Lillard-three
1:00 - Lillard-three
In just two minutes, the Blazers completely flipped the game on its head and seized all of the momentum, pulling ahead 113-110. OKC had a chance to cut back into the lead on the next possession, but Westbrook's out-of-control drive was met by firmly by the stationary force of Mason Plumlee, who absorbed the charge to put an emphatic stamp on the comeback. Plumlee then added insult to injury with an emphatic clutch block on Serge Ibaka's layup in the closing seconds, followed by two cool-as-ice free throws from Dame at the other end to make it official: Blazers win 115-110.
As he leaves the court, Lillard taps the familiar "Lillard Time" gesture to his wrist and the Moda Center crowd erupts into pandemonium.
The discussion begins and ends with Damian Lillard, who added yet another impressive performance to his already budding resume of fourth quarter heroics. Five threes in two minutes is nuts - doing it in a comeback win against a division rival; even nuttier! It was as if an epiphany dawned upon him as the game drew to a close, and that epiphany was to destroy the Thunder at all costs.
Lillard was a man on a mission - his fourth quarter threes came decisively, off the dribble and with a defender in his face. He simply would just not be denied, further reinforcing his reputation as one of the NBA's most ruthless clutch performers. It was almost disrespectful what he did to Oklahoma City. The Blazers could have been one miss away from Coach Stotts waving the white flag and calling off the dogs, but instead Westbrook and Durant - who had both been sensational up until that point - could only stand idly by as Lillard crushed their efforts one laser 3-pointer at a time.
The fourth quarter magic will do well to detract much of the attention from the disastrous third period, in which Portland was outscored by the Thunder 39-28 and Oklahoma City had its way. Although Lillard had been fairly effective when tasked with one-on-one defense during the first half, with his jumper not falling Westbrook made up for it by eating up contact and forcing his way to the free throw line. The Moda Center crowd may have felt some of the contact was exaggerated - and they may have a point, after he hit the deck on back-to-back possessions - but good scorers find ways to get involved when their shots aren't going and he did just that.
Another good battle was between Mason Plumlee and Steven Adams - the 7-foot Adams, who is about as rugged of a player as you will find in the NBA, was getting in to it with the similarly adversarial Plumlee for much of the night. Both of them ended up with respectable numbers (Adams: 17 points, 10 rebounds), (Plumlee: 11 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists). Davis got into the mix a bit too during the first half and kept Portland in the game when its shooting dipped below 40%. The Thunder are the top-rated rebounding team in the NBA by percentage, but the Blazers won that battle handily, 52-42, and maintained a whopping 20-8 advantage on the offensive boards.The bigs did work tonight.
Durant led Oklahoma City with 28 points, but did so (relatively) inefficiently, needing 23 shots. Westbrook had a near triple-double with 25 points, 15 assists and 9 rebounds, but also shot rather poorly (7-19). However, after nearly tearing the lid off of the building during the third quarter, the former MVP was mostly a non-factor for the final period, missing both his shots and going scoreless after pouring in 28 through the first three - at one point late during the comeback, even Mike Rice pined "Durant needs to touch the ball right now," which is like telling you that water is wet. Much of the discussion on the OKC side will probably center around KD's involvement (or lack thereof) during the stretch run and who deserves the blame.
Although it's strange to knock a guy who nearly notched a triple-double, Westbrook will surely receive much of the criticism. I can only imagine the feeling of exasperation as Durant flies around picks to free himself on the perimeter, only to be looked off as his point guard spends the final seconds of a possession isolating into another low-percentage desperation heave - or in Sunday's case, running face-first into Plumlee's chest.
Damian Lillard can probably run for mayor at this point and win. Game-high 31 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 50% shooting, 8-14 from deep; he had 7 turnovers as well but that's not going to take away from a career night.
Mason Plumlee might not be the biggest guy in the league, but he plays best when it's a physical matchup. The Thunder have a formidable front line and Plumlee was Portland's most active participant on the boards. He also drew an important charging call against Russell Westbrook during the final minutes to go along with his game-sealing block.
CJ McCollum scored 22 points but struggled to find his rhythm, going 8-23; He missed a number of shots inside I'm sure he'd like back.
Al-Farouq Aminu had a nice night on offense, despite being given the impossible task of trying to slow down Kevin Durant at the the other end. He attempted seven 3-pointers (making only two) which is a bit much for him, but for the win I'll give a pass. 16 points, 4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a block to boot.
Ed Davis was a force himself in the paint, hauling down nine rebounds (five offensive) and scoring 10 points in 22 minutes.
Allen Crabbe quietly had a nice night off the bench scoring 11 points, including a game-tying three during the final flurry. He's still getting the edge over Gerald Henderson for backup wing minutes.
Maurice Harkless hit 3 of 5 shots for seven points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes. He's not getting a ton of opportunity but is looking alright when he gets a chance.
Meyers Leonard saw 13 minutes and went 1-6.
Noah Vonleh played only 14 minutes and missed all three of his shots.
Links and Such
Welcome to Loud City is wondering what the heck just happened.
Portland wraps up its five-game home stand Wednesday when it hosts the Utah Jazz at 7 p.m. in the Moda Center.
We're planning on sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th and we need your help. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
PLEASE consider sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter