After Remaining Quiet, Lillard Speaks Loudly In 'The Moment Of Truth'
PORTLAND -- After Game Three devolved into a contentious affair, one which the Trail Blazers would lose 120-108, the players in Portland's locker room vowed not to let the trash talk, both verbal and non-verbal, divert their focus from winning the series. And in Game Four, they honored that vow, using a business-like approach in the face of a motivated Thunder team spurred on by a rowdy arena to come away with a 111-98 victory in Oklahoma City to tilt the series decidedly in their favor.
But while the Blazers made a conscious decision not to engage in the back-and-forth, they made mental notes of what was said. They fought the temptation to let their opponent know about it, even when the situation called for it.
Or at least they did until it was over.
As Damian Lillard's game-winning, series-ending 37-footer found the back of the net as time expired Tuesday night in Game Five at the Moda Center, the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State allowed himself the indulgence that he and the rest of the team had deprived themselves of, waving goodbye to the Thunder bench as he calmly walked back down the court before the melee of teammates, his family and front row fans commenced.
"I mean, the series was over, that was it," said Lillard after the game. "I was just waving goodbye to them. I think after game three, Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist, they was out there doing all these celebrations and doing all this stuff and we kept our composure. After one win, that was what they decided to do and we was like, okay what we want to do is win four games. When we win those four games, there’s not going to be nothing to talk about, so that’s what that was."
Dame. Called. Game. pic.twitter.com/8Z0skeDbZE
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
Bidding a fond farewell to the Thunder was Lillard's first reaction after hitting the second series-ending buzzer-beater of his career, this one coming from further back and over Defensive Player of the Year candidate Paul George, but as was the case in Game Four, he quickly turned the attention internally. He embraced his teammates, found his brother and sister in the crowd, took a selfie with his mom. Then he turned to the rest of his family, as in, the 20,000-plus in attendance. They too needed his attention.
"I walked over to acknowledge my brother and my sister and after that I was like, I gotta go slap hands with the fans," said Lillard. "We all in this together, we all went through the BS last year, all the struggles, everything the organization and the fans have been through and they continue to come hard with they support. They was excited like we was excited so I walked around the court to acknowledge them."
In the end, it was Lillard's performance on the court that was the most devastating blow for a Thunder team that the vast majority of NBA analysts picked to win the series despite being the lower seed. Fifty points on 17-of-33 shooting. Ten three-pointers, the second-most three-pointer made in a playoff game in NBA history. Three steals, giving him 12 for the series. And of course, one dagger.
And a last parting shot. As Lillard walked down the loading dock of the Moda Center to a van containing all of his family in attendance, bound for the Lillard compound in a suburb a few miles down the road, he recounted the barbs delivered by the Thunder during the course of the regular and post seasons. While there were many, the one that stuck with him, the one that fueled him to an MVP-caliber performance so far in the postseason, required a response, especially after holding his tongue in public for so long.
"Said he’s been busting my ass for years," said Lillard. "That wasn’t true, for one, and this was the moment of truth. This was the perfect platform and opportunity for him to prove it, and you see what happened."