Lillard Breaks Down Deep Three, Steal From Fourth Quarter Versus Nets

by Casey Holdahl
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Damian Lillard has played 334 minutes over the course of eight games during the NBA regular season restart in Orlando, and it’s hard to imagine the Trail Blazers would be in the play-in versus the Grizzlies, which tips off Saturday at 11:30 a.m., were that not the case.

It’s not as if anyone who has watched the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State during Portland’s eight games in Orlando, not to mention in the previous 66 games this season, has to be reminded about his importance to the Trail Blazers, but two plays in Thursday’s victory versus the Brooklyn Nets highlight just how special he’s been, on both sides of the ball.

First, there’s the deep three-pointer, officially listed at 35 feet (which feels a couple feet short), he hit with the Blazers trailing 107-100 with 10:29 to play. Lillard has become known for his prodigious shooting from deep -- according to Basketball Reference, Lillard is shooting 9-of-17 from 35 feet this season -- but his make from just inside the halfcourt line might set a new standard for how far out NBA players can comfortably shoot.

“The deep three, I think it had gotten to the point in the game where they were doubling me before I even got to halfcourt,” recounted Lillard. “They just kept sending bodies and I was trying to make the right play. We were getting great looks, we just weren’t able to capitalize. Guys were shooting the ball with confidence and it just wasn’t going in, and (Brooklyn) were coming down and scoring. I was just thinking ‘Should I just keep making the right play or is it time for me to start searching for a shot, for a look?’ I just didn’t want to be too passive, so when I was to bring the ball up, I was like ‘As soon as I see an opportunity, I’m just gonna raise up.’

“They were kind of communicating who was going to pick up the ball and they were pointing and stuff like that. I just got to a spot before they could get to me and I rose up and it went in. It got to the point where I felt like I needed to start searching for opportunities.”

While Lillard has made a name for himself by being one of the most effective scorers in the NBA -- he finishes 2019-20 as the first Trail Blazer to average at least 30 points per game for a season -- he’s generally considered an average to below-average defender. Part of that seems to be carryover from his firsts few seasons in the NBA, in which his ability to defend, particularly in the pick and roll, was pointed to as one of the few weaknesses in his game.

That hasn’t necessarily been the case the last few seasons. While he’s not a lockdown defender by any stretch, his understanding and effort on the defensive end have improved to a point where he’s no longer a player opposing offenses can take advantage of. And sometimes, the advantage is his, which was the case late in the forth quarter of Thursday’s win.

With 1:15 to play and the Trail Blazers holding on to a slim 132-130 lead, Lillard managed to poke the ball away from Caris LeVert, who finished the game with 37 points on 16-of-29 shooting, as he tried to generate a transition opportunity after a Lillard floater missed the mark.

“The steal, I ran in to try to get the ball and I ended up just staying on (LeVert) full court,” said Lillard. “When I was running beside him, I think he saw me with my left hand, I faked like I was going to try to tap it from behind. Then he crossed the ball over and I didn’t even end up reaching from behind and then we made contact and I just went after the ball. At that point, I was like, we gotta completely sell out. We can’t let this game slip.”

CJ McCollum made a 21-foot pullup on the ensuing possession to give the Trail Blazers a 134-130 lead with 53 seconds to play. With McCollum’s jumper, which came from an opportunity created by Lillard’s defense, gave the Trail Blazers literally just enough of a lead to come away with the one-point win.


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