Let me preface all this by saying that I’m neither a fan of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, nor Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder (#FearTheDeer #BucksIn6).
That being said, the ending of the OKC-Trailblazers game left my jaw on the floor. It’s a testament as to why sports moments can go down in the annals of human history and get crowds crazy no matter how much love or lack thereof is shared for sport. Here’s how it went down.
We’re at Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs where the Trail Blazers hold a 3-1 advantage in a best-of-seven series. If Portland wins, they advance to the second round for the first time in two years, and given their possible opponents, maybe all the way towards the Western Conference Finals. If Oklahoma wins, they stand two more chances to avenge the time they blew a 3-1 lead against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. TL;DR: very, very high stakes.
The scoreboard sits at 115-115, with 13 seconds left on the clock. Damian Lillard calls for an isolation play, and dribbles the ball to half-court to meet with Paul George, the best defender of the Thunder, and a premier two-way superstar to boot. Dame led a furious comeback rally for his Trail Blazers, scoring 28 points to the Thunder’s 10 points in the last few minutes of the game; 47 points to his name, he winds the clock down, readying to attempt the most audacious shot of the season.
It’s the kind of shot that’s guaranteed a spot in the basketball Hall of Fame, closing a game out with such finesse and confidence, amidst stakes as high as these.
We’re familiar with this setup in a regular season game, sure. When a game’s up in the air, you know what time it is. Hint: Dame Lillard is the definition of clutch, and he makes these shots for breakfast. But to put things in perspective, there are a few things that make this one of the most cold-blooded, glorious clutch shots of all time. For one, Dame also ended a playoff series with a similar game winner in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, but it was him running into an open shot off a pass; not as clinching and heartbreaking as setting an isolation play against one of the best defenders in the league. And let’s not forget how Michael Jordan sealed Game 5 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989, sending the Chicago Bulls to the next round. This was done with five seconds left, so it wasn’t technically a buzzer beater. In more recent history, Steph Curry drained an even farther half court shot to clinch a regular season game against the Thunder in 2016. That time, the stakes just weren’t as high.
7, 6, 5, 4, 3… Dame holds the ball for what seems like forever, and 2, he does it: from 37 (THIRTY SEVEN!) feet out, he gathers the ball to side step to the right. Paul George sticks to him like glue, and puts his hands up to defend this Hail Mary attempt to secure the win for Portland. Heroics aside, shooting a three-pointer close to the half-court line is insane for any player no matter what the context, but Damian Lillard simply doesn’t care.
The entire Moda Center goes quiet for eons until *swish*, the shot goes in, Dame hits 50 points, and the Portland Trail Blazers storm the floor. It’s the kind of shot that’s guaranteed a spot in the basketball Hall of Fame, closing a game out with such finesse and confidence, amidst stakes as high as these. We’re talking about the team almost any other competitor in the West wished to confront because they’re “easy pickings.” Nah. Hell nah. You know what time it is, and the crazy man calls it with ease: it’s Dame time.
There’s nothing more fun and electric than approaching the end of a game not knowing which team’s going to come out on top. Playoffs season is always my favorite time of the year because we get to see the best of the best deck it out, where there’s so much room for upsets and heartbreaks. Thanks, Damian Lillard, for reminding us why we love this sport so much, and delivering the thrill to us all.