Winning the Three-Point Contest at the 2023 NBA All-Star Game is now only the second most impressive thing Damian Lillard has accomplished in the past eight days. Lillard added more to his otherworldly legend as the Portland Trail Blazers held off the Houston Rockets 131-114 Sunday night at the Moda Center.
Lillard accounted for a career-high 71 points - the 8th most in NBA history - and 13 three pointers on his way to yet another history-making performance. Absolutely unreal.
The Blazers took advantage of the Rockets having no true rim protector and got on the board immediately with a pair of easy-line drives to the basket the by Lillard and Jerami Grant. After Houston responded by paying just a little more attention to ball handlers, Portland activated DEFCON 3-pointer.
Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish couldn’t connect with attempts from deep, but Lillard brought enough to share. Dame knocked down three triples in the quarter on his way to 16 points, which were all needed to sustain an offense that turned the ball over four times and struggled to string together buckets.
Shots weren’t exactly falling for the Rockets, but they made it up on the offensive glass. Houston was only 1-7 from beyond the arc in the period, but nabbed 7 offensive boards that went towards 8 second chance points. That was enough for them to keep pace.
The Blazers held a small 32-31 lead after one.
Houston began the second by going big - really big - inserting 7’4” Boban Marjanovic into the game to help provide some size against Portland’s notably Jusuf Nurkic-less lineup. The 34-year-old Serbian scored on an easy lay-in and got to the line twice, but he split both pairs when he got there. The plan lasted about three and half minutes. By the time Boban subbed out, the Blazers’ lead had only grown and Lillard was checking back in.
Dame wasted no time picking up where he had left off before, bookending a pair of 32-footers and then converting an acrobatic layup into an and-1 that gave Portland a 50-39 advantage. He was just getting started.
After a Rockets mini-run that cut the lead to just 5 points, Lillard decided that he could suffer no more nonsense and took over the game in the way only he can do. Over the final 4:15, Dame went nuclear with an almost-inhuman 16 points, many of which came in devastating fashion.
A 28-foot heat check with just over a minute remaining extended the Blazers lead to 14. That was followed up with a downright disrespectful 36-foot heave from the logo that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
A running layup just before time expired gave Lillard a career- and franchise-best 41 points in the half and the Blazers a 73-58 lead heading into the break.
After the excitement of the first half, most of the third quarter felt subdued. Houston refused to die behind a scrappy effort from youngsters Daishen Nix and and Tari Eason, who (to their credit) kept Portland honest and the Rockets from getting completely shot out of the gym.
The game also got a bit physical midway through the period, culminating in some Drew Eubanks argy-bargy. Houston made up some ground on the ensuing flagrant foul, and might have gained some motivation as well.
Lillard was given the “Eye of Sauron” treatment by Houston’s defense, but still managed another 9 points in the period, giving him 50 through three as the Blazers saw their lead cut to 14 at 102-88 heading into the final frame.
For about two and a half minutes, it looked like like Blazer fans’ worst fears might come true, as the Rockets cut the deficit to single digits. Houston went back to the “Boban” strategy, this time with success against a Portland zone. Marjanovic had three quick buckets, pulling Houston to within just 7 at 105-98. But that’s as close as they would get.
Lillard continued to be the savior for Portland, checking back into the game and immediately putting the Rockets on notice with a straightway three from 26 feet. From then on, he was The Guy on just about every Blazers possession down the stretch.
Free throws midway through the quarter tied Lillard’s career-high of 61 points. A 28-foot bomb a minute later gave him 64 and Portland a commanding 121-105 lead. From there, the Blazers had the game wrapped up and Dame was playing with house money. Lillard got to 71 points before succumbing to clear and utter exhaustion.
Stay tuned for analysis from the game coming soon!
The Blazers will get a day off before taking on the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night. Tip is set for 7 p.m. Pacific.