On the one-year anniversary of Damian Lillard’s series-clinching shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder, former and current members of the Portland Trail Blazers reflected on what it was like to be in the building for Game 5. Blazers digital reporter Casey Holdahl penned a complete oral history of that night that we highly encourage you to check out. Below are a few highlights from Holdahl’s piece.
Moe Harkless touched on how the Thunder rallied after a timeout late in the third quarter to regain the lead:
Moe Harkless: ”In the playoffs, you can’t really let yourself go there because, shit, you know, we played Golden State three years in a row, we were up probably 80 percent of the time on the floor (laughs). At that point it’s the same kind of mentality because you know they’re going to go on a run eventually. Not necessarily take the lead, but they’re gonna put pressure on us, so we’ve just got to stay focused. And they did, they came back and they took the lead.”
Even as the Thunder’s lead stretched, Lillard said the team’s previous adversity and matchups with OKC prepared them not to panic:
Damian Lillard: ”We had already felt the bottom (the year before versus the Pelicans), you know what I’m saying? Like, the bottom. And we had felt the pressure, we had already went through it. So there wasn’t no panic and none of that. We also, from top to bottom on our team, we honestly felt like we had they number. We had beaten them three out of four, even the games they beat us in the regular season, we was on they ass.”
A turning point in the game was marked by the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic, who scrambled to make it to the arena:
Jusuf Nurkić: ”Basically what happened — I don’t remember the minutes, I feel like three or four minutes to go in the third quarter or even less — I’m like, man, should I go there? I texted my doctor like ‘I got a crazy idea in my mind, should I do it?’ and he’s like ‘No Nurk, don’t do it!’ I’m sitting and like, I was just texting the doc, I just can’t help. He’s like ‘You good, you ain’t gonna do anything but it’s just not worth the risk.’
Zach Collins: “To have him there — Nurk really knows how to get the crowd going and yelling. We weren’t out of it mentally but that gave us an energy boost. Everybody felt it, everyone was like ‘Nurk’s with us, we can do this’ even though he’s not playing. That was awesome. Everything with his injury and how huge he was for our team, everybody knows that. He’s definitely one of our emotional leaders. We look to him when he’s on the court, we always get that boost because he’s not afraid of anything. Obviously for the crowd to see that and for us to see that, it was big.”
Then, there was the shot itself. Lillard even had his teammates perplexed at his plan with the clock winding down:
CJ McCollum: ”I think I waved at him like ‘Go!’ As soon as I wave for him to drive or do something, he takes like a methodical dribble, side step and just raises up and I’m like ‘Oh shit, he shot it.’”
Finally, there was the memorable dog pile to celebrate Lillard’s shot, but the man himself made sure to avoid the bottom:
Damian Lillard: ”Any time you see a dogpile around me, don’t get nervous because I don’t let nobody dogpile me. If you see the first time I hit the shot against the Rockets they tried it, I was pulling people off of me before it could happen. And this time, I was just kind of grabbing people to make sure I didn’t go down underneath all of them. I ain’t gonna be at the bottom of no dogpile. You can count on that.
“Skal and Enes the first guys out there and they ended up underneath me! I ain’t going to the bottom, I’ll tell you that right now.”
There are many more entertaining moments from Holdahl’s oral history, which you can check out here.