HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 17: Jusuf Nurkic #27 and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers high fives during the game against the Houston Rockets on December 17, 2022 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lillard Passes 18k Points, Moves Up NBA and Franchise Top 10s In Win Versus Rockets

HOUSTON -- Damian Lillard didn’t become the all-time leading scorer in franchise history in Saturday night’s game versus the Rockets in Houston, though he did pass a number of milestones while also helping his team shake off one of their worst performances of the season the prior evening.

After getting blown out by the Mavericks Friday night in Dallas, the Trail Blazers finished off the “Texas Three-Step” by besting the Rockets 107-95 in front of a crowd of 16,217 Saturday night at Toyota Center.

“I’m pleased with the win. We responded,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “I thought defensively we were really good all night, very competitive, pretty physical.”

The Trail Blazers are now 17-13 overall, 10-7 on the road and 2-1 at the midway point of a 10-day, six-game road trip. Portland is now 2-0 versus Houston this season.

Lillard entered Saturday’s game with 17,995 points, just 46 points behind Clyde Drexler for the most points scored in franchise history. And while Lillard is more than capable of putting up those kinds of numbers, the second night of a back-to-back in a game in which Portland led by as many as 22 points in the second half didn’t provide a strong opportunity to finally claim the top spot on the scoring ledger.

“He’s not going to do it just to do it,” said Billups. “It’s going to come the right way, playing the right type of ball. Barring anything crazy happening it’s going to be very soon the way he’s playing. He’s playing at an extremely high level.”

However, one milestone and two all-time Top 10 lists were in play for Lillard Saturday night, with the 6-3 point guard in his 11th season out of Weber State passing all three over the course of 33 minutes of play.

First, with his fifth point, an and-one layup with 4:32 to play in the first quarter, Lillard surpassed the 18,000 point mark, making him just the second Trail Blazer, the eighth active player and the 77th player in NBA history to amass that many points.

“It’s an honor to have that level of success and score that many points, but I have to give credit to the people that allowed it to be possible: my trainers, people that have invested time in helping me become the player that I’ve become,” said Lillard. “I’ve got to thank the coaches, my first coaching staff, Terry Stotts, David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbetts, Dale Osbourne, Jay Triano, Kaleb Canales, I can do down a long list, Jim Moran, all of them. All the vets that played with me that just pushed me, but the coaching staff that, from day one, gave me the opportunity to play free and play a lot of minutes and play through mistakes and things like that. A lot of guys don’t get that opportunity from day one and they don’t get the kind of freedom that I’ve had over the course of my career to reach this point, so I owe a lot of people, I guess, credit for this being a possibility.

“And I’ve got to thank God for allowing me to be healthy for the majority of my career, to stay clear and stay clean mentally as well. A lot of people that I have to thank that played a part in me reaching this type of milestone.”

Next, with his second steal of the game, which came when he intercepted a Bruno Fernando pass with 6:50 to play in the second quarter, Lillard moved pass Cliff Robinson for sixth in franchise history in steals with 697.

Said Lillard: “I’m not a steal the ball guy typically, but I’ve been in this league extremely long, so if you play enough games, you gonna have some steals.”

The final noteworthy statistical moment for Lillard came late in the fourth quarter. With a comfortable 20-point lead, Billups put in the end of the bench with a little over five minutes to play in regulation. But the Rockets managed to trim Portland’s advantage to 11 with just over two minutes to play, forcing Billups to re-insert his starters back into the game.

“I know you’re young, you’ve been sitting over there for most of the game but it’s a luxury to play in the NBA," said Billups. “You get in, you’ve got to play the right way. We have a lead like that, I should never have to go back to our starters and risk an ankle tweak or something just trying to get this game. But I’ve seen that movie too many times before where the team starts to get the momentum and keep going and keep going and we’re turning it over, we’re getting bad shots, we’re not playing the right way. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

Neither would Lillard.

On the first possession after re-entering the game, Lillard canned a 27-foot three-pointer, his fourth of the night, to push Portland’s lead back to 14 while also passing Jamal Crawford for eighth in NBA history in made three-pointers with 2,222.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunity, I’ve shot a lot of threes,” said Lillard, who is now 60 three-pointers behind Jason Terry for seventh all-time in made three-pointers. “I feel like I’m a really good shooter so if you have an opportunity to shoot a lot of them, you should make a lot of them, and I have. That’s a pleasure as well.”

Lillard, who reached 2,222 three-pointers in nearly half the number of games that Crawford, Terry and LeBron James, who is ninth all-time, needed to make the Top 10, also took the opportunity to wonder why he’s not considered one of the league all-time great shooters despite his ranking. He was quick to note that Stephen Curry, whose 3,248 threes is first on the all-time list by a considerable margin, is the best shooter in NBA history, but that he’s no slouch either, despite what some of his detractors might argue.

“I always see stuff on social media where they talk about the greatest shooters of all-time and they always act like it’s just crazy for people to mention me,” said Lillard. “I think for how many threes I’ve made, for how consistent I make them, the level of difficulty that I shoot threes with over years and years and years, I just think it’s kind of crazy people don’t mention me in those discussions.

“Obviously I think Steph is the greatest ever, but I think after him, I don’t see why I’m not clear-cut in that discussion, not just by makes, but how I shoot it, how I make tough ones all the time, how easy I shoot the ball. I’m looking forward to keep climbing that list so once I get up there in that top two, top three, I’m curious to see what people will say about me as a shooter at that point.”

That discussion, as his quest to past Drexler, will have to wait for another night. But while the milestones are nice, the real goal Saturday night was to get back on the winning side of things, which they managed without much issue.

“We had to make some adjustments but we did what we had to do to tighten up, to get the game won, and we did that,” said Lillard. “We was able to create some separation with our defense and another good win.”

Anfernee Simons, who is well on his way to etching his name on a few franchise Top 10 lists, led all scorers with 32 points in 11-of-21 shooting from the field. Jusuf Nurkic contributed 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and a block in 27 minutes. Josh Hart joined Lillard by posting a double-double, though his came by way of 12 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Having played all three Texas teams over the last four days, the Trail Blazers now head to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder in consecutive games. The first is scheduled for Monday at 5 p.m.