Lillard Scores 61 With Help From Above In Win Versus Mavericks
Even though he’s arguably been the MVP of the 22-team NBA regular season restart in Orlando, Damian Lillard still needs help. He got just enough assistance from his teammates and, as Lillard would tell it, the great beyond in Portland’s 134-131 victory versus the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night at the Field House on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus on the grounds of the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Trail Blazers are now 34-39 overall and 5-2 through seven games of their eight-game restart schedule. With the win, the Trail Blazers move into sole possession of eighth in the Western Conference -- they’re a half game up on the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs -- with one “seeding” game in Orlando left to play. With a win in their restart finale, Portland would be assured a spot in the Western Conference Play-In, which will determine which team gets the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
After a mixed day in terms of the teams near Portland in the standings --- the Grizzlies lost while both the Spurs and Suns won -- the Trail Blazers needed to come up with a result in order to keep from falling back into a four-way tie. A win would give them the inside track on finishing in eighth, which requires a team to win just one of two games versus the ninth-place finisher in order to qualify for the postseason under the NBA’s new “restart” rules.
And with Lillard coming out hot to start the game -- he scored 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 shooting from three in the first half -- versus a Mavericks team already guaranteed a spot in the postseason, it seemed like his effort alone might be enough to lift Portland to a much-needed victory.
But nothing has been easy for the Trail Blazers in Orlando, and that theme carried over into the second half of Tuesday’s game. After taking 66-58 lead into the intermission, the Blazers’ defense, which hadn’t been all that stalwart in the first half to begin with, completely unraveled in the third quarter.
Mavericks power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis was repeatedly left open on the perimeter, with the Latvian answering by going 4-of-4 from three on the way to 14 points in the quarter. Lillard cancelled out that production with 14 third-quarter points of his own, and Carmelo Anthony pitched in nine on 4-of-5 shooting, but with no other Blazer scoring more than five in the quarter, the Mavericks were able to make up five points to cut the advantage to 98-95 going into the fourth.
Portland’s offense went from anemic in the third quarter to nonexistent in the fourth, with their first field goal not coming until Lillard (who else) made a three with 6:13 to play in regulation. By that time, the Mavericks had a 112-107 lead and looked as through they might spoil the Trail Blazers’ opportunity to take control of the race for eighth.
But Lillard managed to live on the free throw line -- he went 11-of-11 from the charity stripe in the fourth -- just enough to keep Portland afloat until help arrived.
That assistance first came by way of Carmelo Anthony, whose ability to make shots in crunch time during the restart has been integral to the Trail Blazers success in Orlando. The 6-8 forward made the first non-Lillard Blazers field goal of the fourth with a three at the 5:27 mark that cut the Mavericks lead to 117-115. A possession later, Jusuf Nurkic tipped in a missed Mario Hezonja three to tie the game at 117-117.
The teams would trade made baskets and free throws for most of the next three minutes. Lillard netted a three at the 2:56 mark, which was answered by a Maxi Kleber three on the next possession which was then answered by another Anthony three to tie the game at 127-127 with 2:23 to play.
THIS DAME GUY IS PRETTY GOOD HUH pic.twitter.com/z2YeDGENNj
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 12, 2020
“(Anthony) had a lot of matchups on the block throughout the game, they had a smaller lineup in so we were able to take advantage of that,” said Terry Stotts. “His two three’s late, obviously they were big. Fourth quarter, there was a lot of trading baskets, we made a nice run but we fouled too much, put them on the line.”
The Mavericks took the lead right back on the next possession with another Porzingis three, and at that point, one had to wonder how many more counter punches the Trail Blazers could deliver considering the minutes they’ve played and the emotion they’ve expended getting back into the playoff race over the course of three weeks in Orlando.
According to Lillard, that’s when divine intervention stepped in.
On the ensuing possession, Lillard launched a 33-foot three-pointer, which hit the back of the rim and shot straight up from the basket at least 15 feet. But rather than sailing out of bounds or careening back into the field of play, the ball fell back through the rim for three. Lillard credited what some might have considered an incredible stroke of luck to the work of a recently deceased family member.
“When I let it go, I shot it real straight,” recalled Lillard. “I was like, that’s on line and I thought it was going to go in. So when it hit back rim and went straight up, I kept watching it because I was like ‘I think that’s going to go in.’ It dropped in. I think that was my cousin, rest in peace, Chef B, I think that was him dropping that in for me.”
While the make only tied the game at 130-130, the sense that the Trail Blazers had something otherworldly on their side was hard to shake after Lillard’s improbable three went through.
“I probably said about 20 pleases -- ‘Please, please, please, please, please,’ -- repeatedly,’” said Anthony. “It wasn’t meant for us to lose when that shot went in. It just wasn’t meant for us to lose.”
And they wouldn’t. After Porzingis was called for an offensive foul on the next possession, Lillard found Hassan Whiteside for a go-ahead dunk with a little less than a minute to play. Luka Doncic went 1-of-2 from the free throw line on the next possession, and even though the Mavericks got the rebound, Trey Burke was called for an offensive foul after running through Lillard for not discernible reason. CJ McCollum, playing with a fractured vertebra in his back, made a pair to put of free throws to finish off the three-point victory.
Lillard finished with 61 points on 17-of-32 shooting from the field, 9-if-17 shooting from three and 18-of-18 shooting from the line to go with eight rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes. With the performance, he joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to score at least 60 points three times in one season.
“First of all, I’m happy to be in that type of company,” said Lillard. “That’s an honor. And I’m also happy that two of the three came in a winning effort and tonight, couldn’t have been better timing for that type of game. It’s a pleasure, it’s an honor to be in company with Wilt and hopefully it can continue.”
Anthony finished with 26. points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from three while also pulling down eight rebounds. Zach Collins and Gary Trent Jr. each added 11.
Six Mavericks players finished in double figures led by 36 points from Porzingis. Doncic finished with 25 points, 10 assists and Tim Hardaway Jr. shot 6-of-11 from the field for 24 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will face the Brooklyn Nets in their final seeding game of the restart. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.