Damian Lillard has been draining game-winning shots throughout the year, helping pull the Blazers into the playoffs in one of the greatest one-season turnarounds in NBA history. Shooting three-pointers is in his nature, as he obliterated the previous NBA record this season for the most successful shots behind the arc by any player in his first two seasons in the league. But what he did against the Houston Rockets on Friday night exhibited just how cold-blooded he can be:
Lillard’s last bucket proved to be the biggest points of the night, as the Trail Blazers finished off the Rockets with a 99-98 victory that sent Portland through to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Lillard would finish the game with 25 points, six rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Teammate LaMarcus Aldridge would lead the Blazers with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
It was a back-and-forth affair all night at the Moda Center as Houston fought gamely for its playoff life and the Blazers battled to finish off the Rockets. The Blazers took a 7-0 lead in the first 90 seconds only to watch the visitors go on a run and pull ahead by as many as 10. Yet the momentum would swing again, as the Rip City faithful implored the home side to pull within a point, the first quarter ending 29-28 in favor of the Rockets.
Neither team could shake off the other in the second quarter. The lead fluctuated throughout, with both teams trading slim leads that never went beyond six points. A two-pointer by Mo Williams with two seconds remaining closed out the first half, as Houston headed to the locker room with a slim 58-56 lead.
Everything seemed to be going Houston’s way after the break. James Harden drove for a layup to open the scoring and started to heat up. Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley got in on the offense. But no matter how hot the Rocket got on a balmy Portland evening, they couldn’t build any lasting momentum. As the buzzer sounded on the third quarter, the Blazers were again just a point behind Houston at 79-78.
Thomas Robinson was the catalyst for the shutdown of Houston’s defense at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and he would also finish with eight points. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews added critical scores as well, fueling the offense in the final frame. Their timely baskets kept the Blazers in the game. Then, with 0.9 seconds left, Chandler Parsons rebounded Harden’s errant 19-footer and put in the second-chance bucket, and it looked as though the series would shift back to Houston for a Game 7 showdown on Sunday.
After timeouts taken by both sides, the Blazers set up for the inbounds pass in the offensive half of the court. Batum found Lillard streaking past his man, 25 feet from the basket. Catching, stepping, and shooting in one fluid motion, Lillard beat the buzzer… and the series was over. Harden would finish with 34 points, Howard added another 26, and Parsons kicked in another 16, yet it still wasn’t enough to fend off Damian Lillard’s last-second winner.
Cold blooded, indeed.