Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater in the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets is one of those “where were you?” moments for not only Portland Trail Blazers fans, but sports fans as a whole. Ask a Blazer fan to recall The Shot, and they’ll walk you through Lillard cutting across the top of the key, chopping his feet, clapping his hands and eventually letting the perfect shot go. But I ask you: Did you notice anything else going on during the play? Probably not at first, but after your five hundredth view, you find some interesting details. Let’s walk through everything going on in the peripheral of The Shot.
Chandler Parsons was riding high with 0.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a crucial Game 6 for his Rockets. He had just hit the layup that put Houston up 98-96, and all his team had to do was hold on and they’d be headed home for Game 7. Instead, Damian Lillard came into his life and turned it upside down, morphing him from a potential hero for his layup to a guy who realizes he’ll be on posters for the rest of his life based on what he failed to do:
There’s even a brief moment in the celebration, as the in-arena light system bounces around the court, where a spotlight is shone on Parsons, in a frame of irony that almost makes you contemplate if this coincidence was actually intentional:
While we’re talking about Parsons, James Harden deserves a mention. He’s the one that switches Parsons onto Lillard in the first place! The guy who has an 11-minute video of all his defensive mishappenings was the one barking out defensive assignments on the biggest play of the season, and just so happened to take Patrick Beverley — known defensive monster — off Lillard. No, really:
An amazing part of Lillard’s biggest career moment is that it was never designed for him in the first place. The play was originally designed for LaMarcus Aldridge to tie the game up, and Lillard became an unexpected second option, as told by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers guard: The play was actually for me and the other two guards to take off and go to the other side of the court and make our defenders react that way and then try to throw the lob to LA (Aldridge) to force overtime.
Dwight Howard, Rockets center: I was on LaMarcus Aldridge. I was focused on not letting him score. I was locked in, so I didn’t even know what was happening until it happened.
Lillard: When I stepped on the court, Mo Williams kept telling me “Go to the ball, go to the ball.” I was like, “That’s not the play.” He was like, “I don’t care. Go get the ball.”
In the video you see Aldridge jockeying for position and Nic Batum looking his way for the pass just as Lillard breaks free:
LOOK AT DWIGHT HOWARD HERE. WHAT EVEN REACTION IS THIS?? HE LOOKS LIKE HE’S GONNA VOMIT. HE GRIMACES LIKE DAMIAN LAMONTE OLLIE LILLARD JUST DROVE AN ACTUAL STAKE THROUGH HIS HEART:
Thomas Robinson is one of those players I will always root for. I loved his time in Portland and I hope he returns someday. If you don’t know, Robinson came to the Blazers in a trade from … wait for it … the Houston Rockets in … wait for it … the summer right before the 2013-14 season. So Robinson had a fresh wound from being dumped by Houston, and he got to a front row seat to watch his new team beat his ex-team in heartbreaking fashion. And when Lillard’s shot drops, Robinson basically throws down the biggest fist pump I’ve ever seen (look for him in a white shirt that comes in streaking as players gather around Lillard):
It’s hard to pick a favorite peripheral happening during The Shot, but the crowd really makes the whole thing. Their screams fill the Rose Garden and make you feel what it was like in the arena at that special moment in time. The best part of the crowd is seeing what everyone is doing right before and during the shot. Who among us can claim they just knew it was going in before it actually did?
You can pause the video at different moments and see for yourself who had their hands up and who didn’t, but there’s one really beautiful moment in the midst of the shot, which features a horrified Rockets fan next to an exuberant Blazers fan:
Brandon Roy has nothing to do with The Shot, yet it’s easy to see part of him there, on that court, anyways. He had a miraculous, less-than-a-second-left buzzer-beater of his own six years before Lillard. He hit that shot from a nearly identical spot to Lillard. His shot came against the Rockets, just like Lillard. He too was fading away, just like Lillard.
The moment for both players really became a jumping point for their careers, and it’s something they’ll always be remembered for or even remembered by years after they’ve hung it up.
How likely is it that a franchise has two similar, improbable buzzer-beaters from two of if its most important players ever?
I’d say: only in Portland.