The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 116-104 this evening. We're not going to talk too much about the game in general. Portland couldn't handle Brook Lopez. Former Trail Blazer hope Thomas Robinson had a few nice moments on the boards, Joe Johnson went on a brief hot streak from three-point land, and point guard Donald Sloan nearly notched a triple-double. Aside from that the Nets played with a pudding-like urgency. The Blazers outran them, out-shot them, and completely steamrolled their bench.
None of that matters. Neither the flow of play nor the win tell the story of this game. If you really want to understand the evening you don't need to know anything but this:
Damian Lillard is developing into one of the most amazing players ever to put on the uniform in Portland and may turn out among the best 2-3 players of his generation. Nights like this show exactly why.
You're looking at the boxscore. seeing 33 points, and saying, "Yeah...he had a great game."
No. Stop. Shhhh. He'd already had a great game before he was 8 points in. The final stats were irrelevant except as a repeat of a refrain he delivered so skillfully that he might as well have been dressed in a cape, fingers stroking the keys of a pipe organ while lightning flashed across the Brooklyn skyline. Lillard not only had his defenders on a string, he had the entire game in his grasp whenever he wished. Tonight both opponent and crowd danced to his tune whether they willed it or not.
The first evidence of Lillard's mastery came in the middle of the first quarter. Behind an unstoppable attack from Lopez, the Nets had pushed their way to a 12-4 lead. The margin wasn't as significant as the threat of a road game getting out of hand. Sensing the danger, Lillard took over the ball. He calmly hit a pair of jumpers and dished two assists over four consecutive possessions, pulling his team back within 14-16. He'd close the period with another pair of dimes to push the Blazers ahead 23-22 after one.
The second period was quieter. Lillard carried a single three-point make into the final minute of the half before unleashing 5 points in 38 seconds to remind the Nets that he was still there. Portland led 56-49 at intermission.
Joe Johnson fueled a Brooklyn rally midway through the third period, splashing three triples in a row to tie the game at 74. Lillard missed a three himself then got blocked in spectacular fashion by Lopez on a dunk attempt. Was he human after all? You be the judge. Portland's next scoring possessions read: "Lillard assist to Mason Plumlee at the cup, Lillard layup, Lillard assist to Allen Crabbe on a breakaway, Lillard layup". Reports of Damian's mortality may have been premature. Portland led 83-79 after the third.
The Blazers would score 33 points in the fourth quarter to run away with the game. Ed Davis scored 4 of those off of offensive put-backs. Of the 29 points the Blazers gained through their regular offense, 17 were either scored by or assisted by Lillard. Every time the Nets thought they had anything, Dame took it away from them.
In the course of writing about the NBA I see a ton of teams and hear all their commentators. You can tell when a player does something special; you hear it in their voices.
Good games from J.R. Smith are usually described with, "He's on a hot streak." The implied "but..." rings out amid the praise. It's not so much explaining as "explaining away".
Then you have your, "Hey...this guy is surprising me!" moments. When a relatively young player performs above himself analysts express delight, laughter. They feel good for the kid despite themselves.
Then you have what Lillard does to people on nights like this. The broadcasters struggle to quantify it. Whatever words tumble out, they amount to, "I cannot credit what I am seeing right now." He makes a move, the shot goes in, two beats of silence ensue before anybody can say anything.
It wasn't just that Lillard's jumper was rapid and beautiful as a quicksilver fountain tonight. (It was. See also: 33 points on 13-24 shooting, 5-10 beyond the arc.) Jaws dropped and voices failed because everybody expects Lillard to score like he was in a shoe commercial, but nobody expects to see him time his contributions like a 10-year veteran, keeping his teammates involved in the action and orchestrating the game so lushly when the other team is theoretically trying to stop him.
These nights are like two sides lining up for a protest only to have one speaker make his case so powerfully that everybody, even his opponents, hush to listen.
This does not happen often. It really doesn't happen often with 4th-year players. If Future Lillard carries over this kind of ability and adds to it in any way, watch out.
Crabbe and Davis had wonderful games tonight. The not-Gerald-Henderson portion of Portland's bench shone. But if you want to know why the Blazers beat the Nets soundly tonight, it's because Portland had Damian Lillard on their side. Without him, none of the rest would have mattered.
Lillard didn't just have a special game, he showed the world he's a special player. You don't get to see that often. Enjoy it.
Read the Brooklyn view of Portland's performance at NetsDaily.
Wouldn't you feel good about sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see Damian Lillard and the Blazers play? We're doing exactly that when the Sacramento Kings come to Portland on March 28th! Your help makes a huge difference and it's easy. 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.