LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – Damian Lillard started from 33 feet and can only watch and wait as the ball curled from the back edge and shot straight into the air, with the fate of the game – and his Portal Trail Blazers frantic push to play – depends on balance.
The hottest player in the NBA bubble got the shooter bloated. The 3 deceased gave Lillard 61 points, tying his top career and pushing the Blazers to win 134-131 against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
As Lillard eased the win that earned him the only eighth-place finish in the Western Conference standings away from the Memphis Grizzlies with a sowing game to go, courtyard cameras caught the All-Star making a claim.
“Do a little respect for my honest name,”; he said over and over as teammates and coaches came to congratulate their hero.
The eight-year veteran’s run is not just about gaining respect for the Portland shooting guards. It’s also giving “Dame” to the club with the first name only with the big ones in the NBA like Michael, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron and, best of all, like Wilt.
Tuesday’s marked noise was Lillard’s third game of the season with 60 points. He joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only player in league history with three or more 60-point games in a season (Chamberlain had 15 in 1961-62 and nine in 1962-63).
“This is the most important game of our lives,” Lillard told TNT in a post-match court interview. “Tonight was great. We said we need a win. We will focus on one game. We managed to do that. And that is the most important thing. We have to finish it right.”
The Blazers are 5-2 since the restoration, with Lillard retreating from Saturday’s loss to the LA Clippers, in which he missed two free throws late, with 51 points in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers followed by his attempt to 61 points against Luka Doncic and Mavs. This is the first time in his career that he has gone for games back 50-points, making him the second shortest player in league history, at 6-foot-2, with nights in a row. Only Allen Iverson (6 feet) was shorter. Tuesday’s performance also boosted Lillard’s career in 11 games with 50 points in the regular season, tying him with Iverson for eighth on the all-time list.
“First of all, I’m just happy to be in that kind of enterprise. It’s an honor,” Lillard said when briefed on Chamberlain’s statute. “There could not have been a better time tonight for that kind of game.”
Lillard’s effort was extra in time, given that his backbone friend, CJ McCollum, has been playing with an uninterrupted fracture in his back, as first reported by NBC Sports Northwest and confirmed by ESPN.
McCollum had a plus-minus -25 in 39 minutes, scoring 8 points in 3-for-14 shots with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 errors. He hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds left in the adjustment to increase Portland’s lead from one to three, placing a wild, last-second miss by Tim Hardaway Jav. of Mavs as he tried to send the game overtime.
“He’s a little upset,” Lillard told McCollum. “He is not making excuses or looking for a way out. He is pulling him for the team and he will be there for us.”
Lillard was also part of a major defensive stop, pulling a charge at the Mavericks’ Trey Burke with 4.5 seconds left. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said Lillard may have slipped one of the referees.
“I did not look at it. People who had iPads [on the Dallas coaching staff] said it was clearly a flop, “said Carlisle.” But the great players at the moment, they know how to create that situation. So hey, if it’s a flop, maybe he’ll be fined. I do not know, but it does not help us in the context of the game. “There were so many good elements to that game that it was unfortunately for us.”
Portland will play the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday in the Blazers seed round final with a simple directive: Win, and they will be guaranteed a place in the play-off round this weekend, with a first-round squad against the Lakers in word .
“No one wanted to come into this bubble and play off more than Dame,” Blazers coach Terry Stott said. “And we have one more game, but his leadership – obviously, his game speaks for itself – but he is bringing the team together with him.”
As for that Lillard back beauty who tied the game at 130 with 1:29 remaining, immediately responding to a 3 by Kristaps Porzingis in previous Dallas possession, Stotts recalled Don Nelson’s fake line jersey in Game 7 of the 1969 final that also got a strong bounce and helped the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers.
“Nellie’s shot was not even close to Dame’s shot,” Stotts said.
Lillard is convinced that his blow was aided by a little divine intervention.
“I think he was my cousin, rest in peace, Chef B, I think he was dropping it for me,” he said.
Brandon “Chef B” Johnson, who prepared food for Lillard, McCollum and other Blazers players over the years, died suddenly in May.
“He was just the person who was in charge of a lot of things for me and wore a lot of hats for me,” Lillard said. “He was my right-hand man. Everything he needed to do, he did for me, basically, and by losing him, he hurt. … I just try to continue what I feel like he would like me to do , and I was just dealing with it that way.
“Just try to continue on the path I know he was proud of.”
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.