The Fourth Quarter Of Game 5: An Oral History
On April 23, 2019, the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers hosted the six-seed Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of their Western Conference first round playoff series. After winning the first two games of the series in Portland and Game 4 in Oklahoma City, the Trail Blazers returned home with a chance to close out the series a year after being unceremoniously swept out of the first round of the 2018 Playoffs.
The following is an oral history of the fourth quarter of that game, as told by six Trail Blazers, which would culminate with Damian Lillard hitting the second playoff-series ending three-pointer of his career and Portland winning 118-115 to advance to the second round.
'THIS IS A CHANCE TO REALLY SHOW DOMINANCE OVER THEM IN THIS SERIES'
After losing 120-107 in Game 3, the first meeting of the series in Oklahoma City, the Trail Blazers returned to form in Game 4, besting the Thunder relatively easily with a 111-98 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. By taking the first two games at the Moda Center and splitting the next two games in Oklahoma City, the Trail Blazers returned to Portland with a 3-1 lead and a chance to close out the series in Game 5.
Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers point guard: "I remember we came back from Oklahoma City, 3-1 lead and I just remember coming home like, not only do we have three more chances to win one game, but I was like alright, we in a great spot, three chances to win one game, two of those games at home. But I was like, after our performance last year, I really wanted a certified matchup in that first round, so we not only would be able to redeem ourselves, but it would be against a tough matchup where people thought we would lose, you know? So in my mind, I was like, alright, we going home for Game 5, we can beat these dudes 4-1, that would be a great turnaround, you know what I'm saying? Not only would it be a first-round victory, it would be dominance over them. A team that swept us during the regular season and talked trash, everybody picked them to beat us. I was like, this a chance to really show dominance over them in this series.
"Just finish them off at home, this is what has to happen. That was my thought process. Don't just think, alright, this gonna be cool, they gonna go away. Let's come out here to really show dominance over them."
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 23, 2019
Zach Collins, Trail Blazers power forward/center: "We wanted to end it, we didn't want to go back to Oklahoma City. We didn't want to be on that flight, that windy flight, that sketchy flight, we just wanted to end the series. We knew that we could have ended it in OKC but they got hot and they won a game. In the playoffs when you lose it's really tough because it matters so much, but when we lost that game, the locker room was just very upbeat. We were like, alright, they got one but we know we're the better team, we know that we know how to play them better than they know how to play us. We were just really confident, honestly... Us feeling confident after a loss is not the same as them feeling confident after a win."
To state the obvious: the Trail Blazers were undoubtably the overwhelming favorite to move on to the second round after coming back to Portland with a 3-1 lead. But after entering the 2019 NBA Playoffs having lost their previous eight postseason contests, a run they were often reminded of and which included an embarrassing sweep the year before at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, no one wanted to assume that advancing was a given, especially against a team that had taken the regular season series 4-0.
Moe Harkless, former Trail Blazers forward: "Honestly, me personally, I hadn't thought about that Pelicans series. Once the playoff started, I'm not thinking about that series anymore because we have another series to worry about. So for me personally, at that point, I'm thinking we need to win this next game and get this series over with so we can rest. That was my mindset: Let's win this game, win the series right now, let's not let this thing drag on any longer than it should.
"Besides just going back to OKC and nobody wants to be there, it's actually a tough place to play. So if you don't have to go back there, you don't want to."
Zach Collins: "I think when we found out we had to play OKC and that we had lost to them -- I think we lost to them every time we played them in the regular season. I think that thought crept in about, damn, we haven't beat them yet, so going up against them in the first round, we can't get swept again. It's a horrible look but also just as competitors, we just can't let it happen. I think that thought was there but I don't think we used it as motivation, I just think that was in the back of our heads as far as we hadn't beat them yet. But at the same time, we also believed that we were in every game that we lost to them, so we knew we were two or three plays away from taking the lead against them in every game we played them, so that was a bit of comfort. But we were just really confident and it started with Dame. Dame was so pumped up to play them and he really instilled that confidence in all of us."
Anfernee Simons, Trail Blazers guard: "I’m a rookie, I’m not gonna bring it up because I wasn’t here, but they talked about it a lot, what they learned from it. You could tell that, during the playoffs, they did not want to be that team that kept getting swept in the first round. It played a factor in the run we made. "
'I felt great! It was like, this is exactly how we pitched it, you know?
After a day off, the Trail Blazers are set to host the the Thunder on Tuesday, April 23 at the Moda Center, and behind 15 points from Paul George, the Thunder go up by as many as 10 points in the the first quarter. While Damian Lillard did George a bit better, going for 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 shooting from three and 4-of-6 shooting from the free throw line, no other Trail Blazer scored more than two points through the first 12 minutes, resulting in the Thunder taking a 37-29 lead into the second quarter.
But while Lillard kept up his scoring in the second -- he had 15 points to give him 34 in the first half -- George played just over half the quarter while scoring just five points. Meanwhile, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook struggled from the field, going 2-of-11 from the field and 1-of-5 from three for five points in just under nine minutes.
Between Lillard's continued assault on Oklahoma City's defense and Seth Curry (seven points) Moe Harkless (four points) and Enes Kanter (five points, seven rebounds and two assists) all increasing their offensive production, the Blazers outscored the Thunder by 11 in the second quarter to take a 61-60 lead into the halftime break.
After the two teams took turns holding small leads to start the second half, the Blazers went on a 9-0 run, capped by a Lillard 26-foot three-pointer, to take their largest lead of the game at 84-75 with 3:29 to play in the third quarter. Oklahoma City coach Billie Donovan called timeout after the three, and at that point, it seemed as though the Blazers might be on the verge of blowing the game open.
We are all witnesses.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
Damian Lillard: "I remember I hit a three in front of they bench to put us up nine and they called a timeout. And I remember thinking at that point, if we don't just step on them right now and put them away, because it was like, the game started off in their favor and then we come fight our way back -- I think I had like 34 in the first half (ed note: Lillard is correct) -- and then in the third quarter we kind of took control. After I hit that three I remember we took a nine-point lead, maybe like 84-75 or something like that (ed note: correct again). I hit the three and I remember walking to the bench like, okay, that was a good timeout. I literally remember thinking 'Damn, that was a good timeout!' because I felt like if they didn't call a timeout right there, we would have went up 13 or 15 or something. I was like, right now the crowd is in it, we doing the right things, I just felt like we was about to go up 15 and they called a timeout and I was like 'Damn.'"
Zach Collins: "I think the fact that Dame was just going nuts was huge for us as well. Any time you're up that late in the game, you're feeling very good about it, you're feeling like, okay now we're in a position where we just have to hold on to it. We're not in a position where we have to fight to get back into the game, so we felt really good."
CJ McCollum: "I felt great! It was like, this is exactly how we pitched it, you know? Put 'em away, win by double digits, easy flowing game. I had been in foul trouble so I was in and out of the game, but I was just thinking, this is great! I'm in foul trouble, we're still keeping it close, Dame just going bananas, everybody is playing well and we're in a position to get out of here and get to the next round."
Damian Lillard: "So we get to the bench and I remember thinking, if they come out of this timeout and we don't continue where we were before this timeout, it's gonna become a dogfight."
That's exactly what happened. Behind three-pointers from George, Westbrook and Jerami Grant, the Thunder closed out the third quarter on a 15-4 run to take a 90-88 lead into the fourth quarter.
And it only got worse for the Trail Blazers. Portland would score just two points in the first four minutes and fifteen seconds of the fourth while Oklahoma City steadily expanded their lead. By the 7:45 mark of the fourth, the Thunder led by 15 thanks to a 30-6 run going back to the 3:10 mark of the third quarter. At that point, it seemed likely that the Trail Blazers would be heading back to Oklahoma City for Game 6.
Damian Lillard: "They came out, obviously took that lead, Schroder hit some shots, Paul George had a great game that night, Russ had a great game that night."
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."
Zach Collins: "I remember that being just an avalanche, everything just went wrong in that timespan for us and everything was going right for them. They were hitting everything. I think as a team, it was like, oh shit, this isn't going to be easy. They went on their run, now we're in a position where we have to go fight back into this game and win this game because none of us want to go back to OKC 3-2 because we're going back and now they've won two games and they're feeling super confident at home in a tough arena, so we knew we couldn't let that game slip away."
Jusuf Nurkić, Trail Blazers center: "I was feeling great watching on the couch. At some point when we was leading I was like, great, but then a couple minutes later, a lot of things changes."
'The game don't feel bad.'
After making something of a habit of going down double digits, only to come away with a win during the 2018-19 regular season, the Trail Blazers felt as though there was still plenty of time to make a game of it. Whether it was confidence born out of previous experience, the assumption that a team featuring Damian Lillard was never really out of it, the fact that they'd still have two games to win one even if they dropped Game 5 or some combination of those factors, Portland didn't seem especially rattled by Oklahoma City's advantage.
Damian Lillard: "I remember when we got down 15, I was just like, the game don't feel bad, you know what I'm saying? I had it rolling so much that I was like, the game don't feel bad. I feel like we gonna dig out of it. I feel like this is what we have to do to get that type of performance in this series, to really wrap it up, this is what we gotta dig out of. Fifteen-point deficit, we gotta be on our shit. I feel like it wasn't just me that was thinking that and I think the way we played backed that up."
Moe Harkless: "I think that was kind of a testament to that team. We never felt like we were out of it, period. Playoff race, the game, we never felt like we were out of anything. When we went down, I won't say we weren't worried, but we weren't nervous. We were just locked in and focused on the task at hand. We're down now, there's this much time, we know we can beat this team so let's go out here and do it."
CJ McCollum: "Doubt always creeps in but you've got to put it away. You can't verbalize it and allow that to effect your mentality. Obviously I was thinking we just tricked off a nice lead, we had a chance to win this going away and now we're about to be in a dogfight. We didn't score for a while, we were out there kind of going back and forth and I think Russell Westbrook or something hit a three and you look up and you're like 'Wow.' Up 15 with nine minutes left, so I was like 'Oomph, we got a lot of work to do, just try to get one stop at a time.'"
Zach Collins: "It was definitely an 'our backs to the wall' situation because we realized we're in real trouble if we go back to OKC and they force a Game 7. We didn't want to mess around with it, Dame was very vocal in the huddle, I think all of us were really vocal about it. We were super tight and like, we can't give up right now because it'll be detrimental to us, but we were never not confident. We never thought they were the better team, we knew we were the better team, but at that moment, they had gone on a crazy run. We just stayed in it, never gave up."
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."
Shortly after the Thunder took the largest lead of the game at 107-92, McCollum and Harkless checked in for Seth Curry and Rodney Hood, and almost immediately, the flow of the game changed. McCollum, who entered the fourth with just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 shooting from three, netted a floater on one end and blocked a Schroder shot on the following possession.
CJ McCollum: "I was struggling man. I was struggling big time. From a rhythm standpoint to game flow to everything, but I know who I am as a player. I think that's the biggest thing: I know who I am and I have a lot of confidence in my abilities, regardless of circumstances. I always feel like, with me, the next shot is going in and the next shot is a good shot, especially if I can create space."
Damian Lillard: "I was telling (McCollum) the whole game 'You're going to come up big, stay with it' and all that. I was on his line talking to him like that. And he was like 'Just keep going, I'm going to be there with you in the end, I got you.' He just kept saying that, 'I got you,' and I just told him we gonna get it done. That's what I love the most about C is he don't waiver, his confidence is always there. He not gonna stop being CJ, it's almost like a little arrogance, you know?"
As for Harkless, with the Thunder opting to throw double teams at Lillard, the 6-9 forward out of St. John's found multiple opportunities to score, getting three dunks over the course of two minutes after checking in midway through the fourth.
Moe Harkless: "I remember Russ was guarding me for a long period of time and he was just kind of helping a lot, so I was just going to get rebounds, try to find little seams behind the defense whenever he would turn his head. Dame and CJ demand so much attention when they're on the floor, especially in the playoffs, you gotta be able to find ways to be effective around them. They were able to find me getting out in transition, they were able to find me making some cuts and offensive rebounding. Those were things in that series especially that I was able to do to help the team."
Another thing Harkless was able to do to help the team, at least in Game 5, was hit clutch, high-pressure free throws. A 61 percent career free throw shooter in both the regular season and post season, Harkless went 1-of-6 from the line through three first three quarters of Game 5. But in the fourth, Harkless went 4-of-4 on two trips to the line, one with just over four minutes to play and the other with one minute, 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
Damian Lillard: "That was the most I had ever seen him locked in the whole series. So when he went to the line, I wasn't worried. I had a lot of confidence in Moe, his demeanor and his focus and his comments, everything that he had about him in that whole playoff, I felt good about it."
Zach Collins: "You know what's funny, we were all like... he was missing all game. He was missing all game, so when he went to the line we were all kind of... we had full confidence in him but we were like, if we go based off what's happened so far, he's probably going to miss these. But he went and hit 'em. I think that was an underrated part of that game, for sure."
CJ McCollum: "There was no doubt in my mind he was going to make those free throws. He was the unsung hero of that game, he basically shifted the entire game, especially after starting off 1-of-6 at the free throw line to just calmly step up and knock it down. They was drawls."
Moe Harkless: "I'm not always the best free throw shooter, but when it's winning time, it's winning time (laughs).
"Let me tell you something, make sure you quote me on this: I'm a 50 percent shooter from everywhere. Either it's going to go in, or it's going to go out (laughs). I'm a 50 percent shooter from everywhere! There's only two things that can happen: either that bitch gonna go in or I'll miss. Every time I shoot, 50 percent.
"On a serious note, I didn't think about that. I was out there, I just knew I had to make one free throw at a time and that'll put us in a better position to win."
'I texted my doctor like, 'I got a crazy idea in my mind, should I do it?'
Even with the game trending in their direction, the Trail Blazers were still down eight with less than four minutes to play. But they'd get a boost from the arrival of Jusuf Nurkić, who suffered two compound fractures in his left leg in an overtime win versus the Brookyln Nets at the Moda Center a little less than a month prior to Game 5. Nurkić, whose play in the regular season was one of the foremost reasons Portland was able to nab the three-seed, had not been seen in public since the injury and had not attended either of the previous two games in Portland, let alone the two meetings in Oklahoma City.
But with his team struggling, Nurkić decided to make his return to the Moda Center in hopes of doing whatever he could to help his teammates.
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.'
"So at that point, my girlfriend was walking by, so I ask her 'How long you need to get ready?' She turn back to me and was like 'Get ready or just dressed?' so at that point, I was like 'Get ready.' Basically she got ready and I put some clothes on as comfortable I could find and I drive. I forgot I still need like 25 minutes, at least, to the Moda Center. I basically drive there and I was like, whatever happens, happens, I'm going to just meet them in locker room. But when I arrive it was like, two minute or three minutes to go or something like that and we 10 down or something like that. So I'm like, I'm already here, I'm going out. All the emotions and stuff, just can't stay in the locker room."
Nurkić, wearing a custom screen-printed "WestBRICK" shirt that a friend gave to him a few days before, walked to Portland's bench during a timeout with 3:28 to play in regulation, much to the surprise of his teammates and coaches.
Jusuf Nurkić: "No one saw me! How perfect was the timeout came, so when I was walking in, it was timeout. I go to the huddle and I put my arm around Chief and he didn't realize I was there until the end of the timeout. Chief turn to me, we make hands together and stuff, Chief turned like 'What the (expletive)? Where you come from?' I'm like 'Don't ask me anything man. We just need to win this game.'
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
CJ McCollum: "I was like 'What the (expletive) is he doing here?' You know what I mean? 'Where did you come from?' I was thinking 'You've been here this whole time?' (laughs). He came at the perfect time, honestly, because everyone was kind of, not out, but definitely down. We weren't down and out, but we were down, like "Dang, we just blew it, blew a nice lead and it's not looking good.
"I was happy to see Nurk, he was like 'Come on, win this game,' giving us confidence and inspiring us and cheering us on. Surely enough, the crowd loved it, they got hyped, standing ovation and that shifted the entire game from a momentum standpoint."
Zach Collins: "I had no idea he was going to come, I didn't know that he was even going to be at the arena. I remember watching the game or looking at something -- I wasn't looking at where Nurk was walking out of -- but I was looking at something and then the crowd just starts screaming. I'm like 'What the hell is going on?' and then I turn around and Nurk is right next to us. Then we see him on the screen nodding his head, getting the crowd super hyped. As corny as it sounds, that was definitely something that helped us.
"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."
Fans at the Moda Center realized, thanks to some quick work from the Trail Blazers game ops, that Nurkić was on the Portland bench at roughly the 3:22 mark of the fourth. At the time, the Thunder were leading 113-105, though they would score only once in the remainder of the game after Nurkić's arrival.
'Looks like it's going to be game!'
Lillard's end of game heroics would eventually seal the game, though it was a run of smaller plays that occurred with less than two minutes play, along with the arrival of Nurkić, that allowed Portland to eventually make up a 15-point deficit to tie the game with just over a minute to play.
There was Damian Lillard taking a charge on Russell Westbrook with 1:55 to play in regulation.
Damian Lillard: "David Vanterpool kept telling us 'He gonna keep forcing it!' The later it get in the game, he was just saying he's not gonna want to lean on his jumpshot, he gonna start trying to get downhill. And he was like 'Somebody gotta step in there and take a charge on him' and the whole game he had been saying it. At that point in the game, I was like, I might as well stand here. If he throw it out and my man hit a three, yeah, I'm staying in. I'm just gonna stay in for it, we needed possessions. So I just stayed in and took it, turned out to be a big play."
Then it was McCollum's turn. The Lehigh grad canned a floater to cut Oklahoma City's lead to 113-109 on the possession after Westbrook was called for a charge. And after a steal by Seth Curry, two possessions later, McCollum hit a 22-foot pullup over the outstretched hands of Paul George to tie the game at 113-113 with 57 seconds to play.
CJ McCollum: "I knew for us to win that I would have to play well -- I think I started off very poorly but I think I had 15 or something in the second half (ed. note: CJ is correct). I hit a floater, I banked one right baseline, had a floater left baseline.
"I was actually trying to pass the ball to Dame, he was killing all night and they were denying him, face guarding him and kind of pushing the catch toward halfcourt and I didn't want to risk getting a turnover, so I was just like, just have to go one-on-one. I sized him up, I wasn't shooting well from three so I knew I wasn't shooting a three, I knew I was going to shoot a midrange shot. Went left to right crossover and he jumped and I was like 'Oh, I have to shoot this.' I shot it and I thought I shot it kind of strong, so I kind of went forward a little bit. I was like, that's a little long but it's on target. Sure enough, it was drawls and I was like 'Looks like that's going to be game!'"
But not just yet. George answered McCollum's tough jumper with one of his own, giving the Thunder their first field goal in over three minutes of play and a two-point lead with 39.4 seconds left in the fourth.
On the next possession, Damian Lillard drives straight down the lane, passing Denis Schroder and floating in between Paul George and Jerami Grant to finish with a layup that ties the game at 115-115 with 32.8 seconds to play.
Damian Lillard: "Then they finally scored -- Paul George hit a two-pointer and put them up two, but we had the two for one, so when Coach called a timeout I was like, they're not gonna want to foul me, so I know I'm going to be able to get downhill and if there's any contact up top, I'm pretty sure they're going to blow the whistle in this situation because even if I got to the line for two, the refs won't feel bad because OKC is going to have the last shot, even if it's like minimal contact. So I was like, I feel like if I go in there and challenge them, just force it downhill, I feel like they not gonna really go after it, because they're expecting me to look for contact. And all of the dudes just jumped up and tried to put they hands up, they didn't really contest the shot and I just laid it up over all of them. And we got the two-for-one.
"I knew I was around Denis Schroder, and usually when I'm attacking the paint, I know that I'm gonna end up with a good angle when a defender step up, and they all step towards me and I was going towards the basket, so I knew I would be able to glide past them... And once I came out, I just did what I always do in my workouts. Phil (Beckner) always telling me 'Keep your eyes on the rim, keep your eyes up, watch the ball go in.' I just had my eyes up, my eyes were up early -- like when I picked the ball up I had my eyes up -- and I just made sure I didn't have a lazy finish, just kind of toss it up there expecting it to go in. I finished high, I had my arm extended, had my eyes on the rim early, I exploded to the rim. I made sure that I was sharp on that possession."
Russell Westbrook attempts a similar approach on what would be Oklahoma City's final possession of the postseason. But Al-Farouq Aminu stays in front of Westbrook, absorbs contact and is able to get his arms up to contest the off balance layup and collect the rebound for Portland with 17.1 seconds to go.
Damian Lillard: "Chief stuck his hands out, came up with the rebound."
Zach Collins: "I always hear that narrative about how people wanted more from Moe or Chief or whatever. It's different when you're with them everyday and you see the work they put in and you see how smart they are and you see when we have a gameplan defensively and how well they execute it and how much they help other guys on the court play defense. You don't really give all that noise all that much credit. I don't want to say I wasn't surprised when they made those plays, it's always amazing, especially in those big moments, because not a lot of people in the league can do what those guys do on both sides of the floor. It was just fun to watch. You get close to those guys so you're always really happy for them when things go their way, especially with all that noise. It was just awesome, and we needed to get stops in that game, for sure. We knew, at the end of the day, Dame was having a big game and we could score, but defensively, we needed to really lock down, so it was big."
'What the (expletive) is this guy about to do?' cause he's standing at halfcourt!'
Aminu hands the ball to Lillard after the rebound. Lillard quickly dribbles the ball past halfcourt, but slows once he reaches the pinwheel logo. With Paul George getting into his defense stance a few feet away, Lillard surveys the court while taking slow, methodical dribbles with with roughly 10 seconds to play and the score tied 115-115.
Damian Lillard: "Once I got the ball, I was bringing it up, I looked at the clock and I was like, let me just see where I could get to where (George) is going to still be backed off of me. So I dribbled up, I stopped -- he was kind of looking around, he was backing up -- and I was like, the clock was winding down, I'm not going to the rim, they not gonna call nothing right now to decide the game. So I was like, 'I'm just gonna shoot this shit from right here.'"
CJ McCollum: "I'm expecting him to drive to the basket! I'm like, game is tied, cool. I didn't even know he had 47. If I knew he had 47 I would have known he was shooting a three. I didn't know. You know how you just get lost in the game? So I'm just lost in the game, running up and down the court and I actually sprint down the left side then I looked and I was like, ah damn, there's nobody on the right side, lemme go over here just for spacing purposes so we got three on one side and one on the other. I do that and I'm watching him and he's just dribbling, he's just taking his time and I'm like 'Bruh, go!'"
Moe Harkless: "The game was tied, Chief get the rebound, we're running up the court. The game is tied, there's no shot clock, so I think everybody in the arena knew Dame was going to shoot, right? So he's standing at halfcourt, clock is ticking, seven seconds, six seconds, five seconds. I'm like 'Okay, five seconds, he's got to go now, right?' Five seconds, he doesn't go, three seconds, he doesn't go, I'm like 'What the (expletive) is this guy about to do?' cause he's standing at halfcourt!'"
Zach Collins: "I had no idea, I had opinions. I thought he was going to go to his stepback, but then he was so damn far away, I was like, I don't know what he's doing. I thought maybe he's going to get a running start and he's gonna do a couple moves and go to the rim. Honestly, when he kept dribbling it out there so far, I didn't know what he was doing. I didn't know if he was gonna try to get a foul, like a pumpfake, I didn't know what he was going to do. And then it got to a point where his only option was to just to shoot and I was like 'Shit, he's just gonna launch it.'"
Anfernee Simons: "By the way he was dribbling, I kind of figured he was pulling up for three. We worked out together a bunch of times last year so I’ve seen him shoot that shot, or some form of that shot, a hundred times. I wasn’t worried about him missing it."
After getting square with the basket, Lillard dribbles the ball right to left, left to right. As time is winding down, Paul George takes a step toward Lillard right as he shifts the ball back to his right hand. Lillard collects, takes a small step to the right to improve his angle and raises up from 37 feet with 1.8 seconds on the clock.
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.'"
Moe Harkless: "At first I'm like, let me try to position myself to get an offensive rebound but then I'm like okay, it's two seconds, now I've just got to watch. Side steps to the right and (expletive) just shoots."
Jusuf Nurkić: "As soon as he waved off, I know he's coming long range because he will not take chances to gamble with referee, they gonna call foul or they not. I feel like he gonna get clear shot but I definitely didn't feel he was going to take stepback from there."
Zach Collins: "And when he launched it, it's one of those shots where, if it goes in, it's an amazing shot and if it doesn't go in, you're kind of scratching your head like, why didn't he move closer or why didn't he get to where he can hit that shot? But you forget a lot of times, there's special dudes in this league who make shots that nobody else but them can make. You've seen Dame shoot that shot so many times, but not from that distance, but like he said after, he's been working on that at night at the facility, getting extra shots up and he was working on those far-ass stepbacks."
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
The ball leaves Lillard's hand, traveling almost half the distance of the court while over 20,000 in the Moda Center and millions of people around the world watch in anticipation. The ball hits the inside back of the rim and caroms through the net just as time expires, giving the Portland Trail Blazers a 118-115 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder while ending the first round series 4-1.
Damian Lillard: "He stepped up to me a little bit, so then I kind of started dribbling between the legs because I just wanted to get him to move to my left a little bit so I could step back right away from him and shoot the shot I wanted to shoot. And when I went between the legs, he just took a small step to my left and he was flatfooted and I had the little bit of space that I needed. Game."
CJ McCollum: "The ball traveled in slow motion and then it was like, swish, goes in buzzer goes off and I'm like, 'Oh shit, he made it!' And then I forgot that, oh, that's game! That's the series! You kind of forget, you're like, damn that's a crazy shot."
Moe Harkless: "It felt like the ball was in the air for 15 seconds and then it's straight cash and everybody just goes crazy. It was wild. That was probably the most electrifying basketball moment that I've been a part of."
Jusuf Nurkić: "I see a lot of stuff what's happening in game but in that period of time, especially with the energy we have and the boost, we came back from 15 and all momentum was on our side, so I feel like him taking that shot was just putting cherry on dessert. Just everything kind of fell in. I was really glad I was there for that moment."
Zach Collins: "He did it. He worked on it. He wasn't throwing up a prayer, he knew in his mind what shot he was going to get. He probably knew in his mind right when he got the ball that that was the shot he was going to take. Pretty incredible."
In one of the most iconic moments in franchise history, Lillard, stone-faced after hitting the shot and ending the series, waves to the Oklahoma City bench right before he is mobbed by his teammates and brother, Houston, and sister, LaNae, who were sitting courtside just a few feet away.
Dame. Called. Game. pic.twitter.com/8Z0skeDbZE
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
Damian Lillard: "In the playoffs, I always have my brother and my dad or my brother and my sister courtide, always got two tickets courtside. And it was funny because I was dribbling the ball up and when I was standing there dribbling, I heard my brother yelling. It was like he just knew, like he felt what was about to happen or something. And then when I look at it on tape, I see him look up to the scoreboard and then I see him lean his head back and that was when he was yelling. If you look at it, you see him look up and then he starts yelling and when I was dribbling I actually heard him because he was so close to me. I actually heard him yelling. He was damn near the first person to me."
'I ain't going to the bottom, I'll tell you that right now.'
A dogpile ensues in the celebration across from Portland's bench. Enes Kanter and Skal Labissiere, two of the largest players on the team, get to Lillard first, after which the rest of the roster arrives either to jump on the pile or make sure nobody gets injured at the bottom of it. With the team, his family and a number of fans sitting courtside entangled together, Lillard delivers another iconic moment by looking up at the camera from the dogpile and calmly nodding his head, thus creating a meme that is a part of the regular rotation on social media.
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."
CJ McCollum: "I took a strategic approach. They all tackled Dame and I just jumped toward the side of the pile so I didn't get trapped in the bottom. I jumped in late, like delayed, grabbed him but he was already getting tackled, he was trying to swim people off of him. So I just kind of jumped to the side, like, lemme jump in but I ain't trying to get caught up down here, I'm too small to be trapped. That was crucial."
Moe Harkless: "I ran over there, we all kind of jumped on the dogpile, but when dogpiles come around, I'm a little nervous. So I tried to get myself out of there because people at the bottom wasn't able to move. I remember, I think it was Evan or Chief (ed. note: it was Chief), one of them was all the way at the bottom and they just look so crazy in the picture. It was crazy, it was so fun. I had to get out of there, I'm cool on the dogpile. Somebody gonna get hurt, people sweaty? I'm good."
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
Jusuf Nurkić: "I was kind of in the middle of the bench and when he hit that shot, I feel like when the ball was going in, I was moving toward the table, because any chance he comes to the bench, I probably be dead (laughs). I was like 'Just don't come here! Go anywhere else!'
"Funny story about that. Jon Yim, he's was probably one of the most excited. When he got excited, that's the end of the world. He's a super excited person, you just love to see. So I'm standing there and Jon Yim full sprint tried to jump on me. I was like 'Bro, what the heck you doing?' He's like 'No, no, no I'm not going to jump' and I'm like 'Bro you tried!' It was funny. To this day, me and Jon, I like 'Why you did that?' he like 'I know Nurk, I would not jump' like bro, just look at the clip! It was funny, I was just glad it wasn't something close. I guess it all turned out great."
Zach Collins: "I was not about to get up in there and get jumped on and landed on, so I was trying to keep my distance a little bit and still try to get in there. I was wondering if the fans would rush the court or something. I didn't know -- I'm sure there's pretty strict rules about it and they'll never let that happen -- but I was just kind of wondering what was going to happen. I really, for a second, I was like, so the clock is over and he just hit the shot, so we just won the entire series and now we're moving on. It kind of took me a second to get everything down. I was hyped for Dame because he hit the game-winner but then it was like, oh shit, we just won the series off that. It's incredible."
Anfernee Simons: "I was on the outside. I actually jumped in the air and everybody ran past me when I jumped. There’s a little slo-mo video of him hitting the shot from an angle and then you see me jump into the frame, then out the frame, then come right back down. A jump is the most you’re going to get out of me. I was on the outskirts."
'He wasn't going to let us lose that series'
After the initial pandemonium, Lillard does the postgame on-court interview with TNT, during which he's doused in water by his teammates. He then does a lap around the court to celebrate with fans before exiting to the locker room. Lillard finishes the game with 50 points on 17-of-33 shooting from the field, 10-of-18 shooting from three and 6-of-8 shooting from the line, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block, all while sitting out for just two minutes and 44 seconds of regulation.
Portland would go on to face the Denver Nuggets, the two-seed, in a series that they would eventually win in seven games to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in almost 20 years. And in the process, Lillard, and everyone who played their part in the fourth quarter of Game 5, delivered an indelible moment that will forever live in the lore of Rip City.
Jusuf Nurkić: "It was just, I think, perfect. I couldn't do it better than the way everything happened. Even if I could plan it, I probably not going to do it the way I did."
Zach Collins: "Just the way it happened, it's kind of poetic because Dame has been here and he's been the guy who's willed this team to new heights and to the playoffs every single year. And then the back and forth with him and Russell and to do it in that fashion, in my personal opinion, he dominated all series and then just to put the cap on it with that shot, it was awesome. That series, I saw a side of Dame that I don't think I had seen before where he's talking on the court, he's excited, he's throwing up his wings for the bombs and everything. He was just so motivated to beat the other guy in the matchup that he wasn't going to let us lose that series. All of that kind of came to me at one time, and it was pretty awesome."
CJ McCollum: "Crazy situation to be a part of, for sure. I don't think I've ever been a part of anything like that."
Moe Harkless: "I just think us as a group, we really wanted to win that game. I think that run in general, but especially that game, I think it's kind of a summary of that team and how we were. Things started off good, then they got bad, then they went good, then it got bad again and then we found a way at the end. That team was special and that run was special."
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
Damian Lillard: "I could have had 60 that night, I kind of backed off a little bit. And I played the whole game. It ended perfectly."