Shortly after he shoots, Damian Lillard turns and taps his left wrist repeatedly.
The reason? Keep your eye on that shot he just released … it’s likely going to splash through the net. That moment signifies only one thing: It’s “Dame Time.”
Lillard seems to be at his best in the biggest moments. He has made nine game-winning shots in the final seconds of the game in his career. No need then for Lillard to look up the term “buzzer beater” in the NBA dictionary. It seems he had that definition memorized when he entered the league in 2012.
No wonder then that Lillard has made six All-Star teams and six All-NBA teams. Or that Lillard guided the Blazers to eight consecutive playoff appearances, including the team’s first trip to the Western Conference finals (2019) in 19 years. Or that Lillard, with 17,510 points, appears on pace to surpass Clyde Drexler (18,040 points) next season as the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. Or that the NBA named Lillard one of the 75 greatest players ever.
“I was shocked,” Lillard said about making the NBA’s Top 75 list. "It was an unbelievable accomplishment, and probably the best accomplishment of my career so far.”
Lillard might be shocked by being in such a lofty fraternity, but we doubt he’s ever shocked by what happens when he takes a big shot.
Look below at Lillard’s highlights over his 10-year NBA career. You will see that he expects just about every shot to go in the basket. And why wouldn’t he?
He has earned the nickname “Logo Lillard” because of his seemingly unlimited range. He has also earned the nickname “Dame Time” for how consistently punctual he has become in the final minutes of a close contest. Give him a little space, and he will make you pay.
Lillard’s road to the NBA started early. As a young child in Oakland, Calif., he took up basketball in an unconventional way. Because he had no actual hoop at his grandparents’ house, Lillard first shot basketballs through a nearby tree branch that grew in the shape of a rim. After landscapers eventually took down the tree, Lillard’s grandfather nailed milkcrates on a nearby telephone pole so he could shoot there instead. Lillard explains in the video below why “it felt like heaven” once he shot on an actual basketball hoop.
Lillard’s confidence reached ungodly levels at Weber State. Then, Lillard refined his training and film study with assistant coach Phil Beckner, who became his personal trainer in Portland. It did not take long for the Blazers to see Lillard as a franchise player.
Toward the end of his rookie season, Lillard appeared ready to challenge an elite NBA team (Lakers) and an elite NBA star (Kobe Bryant). With the Blazers starting four rookies for the first time in franchise history because of various injuries on April 10, 2013, Lillard posted a season-high 38 points (shooting 12-of-25 from field and 5-of-11 from 3-point range) and added nine assists and three steals.
The Lakers still prevailed largely because of Bryant, who had 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks in a pivotal game that kept L.A.’s playoff hopes alive. But consider that Lillard showed his full potential at Bryant’s expense, including making a bank shot from the top of the key as well as a baseline jumper over the Lakers’ legend. Afterward, the ultra-competitive Bryant shook his head in amazement. “That boy’s serious, man,” Bryant said.
Lillard did not just have a breakout game against the Lakers. He had those types of performances throughout his rookie season. Lillard set the NBA’s all-time rookie record for most 3-pointers in a season as well as most 3-pointers made among any Trail Blazers player in franchise history. Lillard became the first rookie since Elvin Hayes in 1968-69 to lead the NBA in total minutes played (3,167). He joined Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson as the only players in NBA history to post at least 1,500 points and 500 assists during their rookie seasons.
No surprise then that Lillard became only the fourth player in NBA history to win Rookie of the Year unanimously, following Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson (1984).
While accepting the Rookie of the Year award, Lillard looked to the future.
“It’s a whole career in front of me after this,” Lillard said at the time. “I want to do a lot more. I want to win a championship. I want to be an All-Star. I want to be MVP in this league. I want more than just the Rookie of the Year award.”
Lillard has the Portland franchise record for most 30-point performances in the postseason (21). In those clutch moments, Lillard seems to sink shots that only he can make.
In just his second NBA season, Lillard made a series-clinching 3-pointer as time expired to give the Blazers a first-round victory over the Houston Rockets. Not only did Lillard become the first player since John Stockton (1997) to make a series-clinching shot, he also gave the Trail Blazers their first playoff series victory since 2000.
Here’s a look at that incredible shot, and the eruption that followed inside the arena.
Five years later, Lillard did it again, punctuating a 50-point performance by delivering a 37-foot, series-clinching 3-pointer in Game 5 of Portland’s first-round series vs. Oklahoma City. After draining the shot over Paul George, Lillard waved goodbye to the entire Thunder team before his own teammates mobbed him.
Afterward, the Clippers’ George chalked up Lillard’s game winner as “a bad shot.” But Lillard has proven that those are good shots -- because he is the one taking them.
When the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season finally resumed at a quarantined campus in Florida, Lillard was on full display: 61 points vs. Dallas, 51 vs. Philadelphia, 45 vs. Denver, 30 vs. Memphis. We could describe in detail each of those performances, but let’s just let the video do the talking.
What’ better than having one lethal sharp-shooter on your team? How about having two of them. For a full eight seasons, Lillard teamed up with C.J. McCollum to give the Blazers one of the best shooting backcourts in the NBA.
How do two, high-volume shooters work together to benefit the team? In this feature from the vault, you’ll hear how Lillard and McCollum -- both four-star shooters – made it work.