Portland’s Damian Lillard made 10,500 rowdy Nuggets fans inside Ball Arena go silent in Game 5 with a contested 3-pointer to force overtime.
In the aftermath of Denver’s thrilling 147-140 victory in double-OT on Tuesday night, the players and coaches who witnessed Lillard’s heroics — from the Blazers and Nuggets — were compelled to speak up. History deserves recognition.
Lillard’s latest entry into the NBA record books? The first player to ever record at least 50 points, including 10 makes from deep, and 10 assists in a game, regular or postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Between both overtimes, Lillard dropped 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor.
“Damian Lillard was superhuman tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
The Blazers trailed 121-118 with 9.8 seconds left in regulation. Lillard cleared out teammates as he approached Michael Porter Jr. near the arc. Lillard took two hard dribbles right, stepped back in a flash, and sank the triple over Porter’s outstretched arm.
“It was the best playoff performance I’ve ever seen,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
Lillard did it again in the first overtime period as the Nuggets led 135-132 with 14 seconds remaining. Shaq Harrison attempted to pick up Lillard at midcourt. But once reaching the arc, Lillard spun left, stepped back, and hit a deep dagger to force more free basketball at Ball Arena.
“The degree of difficulty in which he hit some of those shots, it’s God-like, you know what I mean?” Blazers guard CJ McCollum said. “Just to be able to create space and shoot from so far out contested, time after time. It’s a shame we wasted one of the all-time performances by not being more supportive for him.”
Nikola Jokic added: “A pleasure to be on the court, just to witness that.”
However, the Nuggets would not have been in both situations had they chose to foul Lillard on the floor — forcing him to shoot two free throws — and eliminating a three-point opportunity. Kevin O’Connor, NBA analyst for The Ringer, tweeted (@KevinOConnorNBA): “Damian Lillard is one of the greatest clutch shooters in the history of basketball and yet Michael Malone refuses to foul up three with seconds remaining in regulation AND overtime. Inexcusable.”
Malone later explained his decision-making process in defending Lillard late.
“If a guy catches inside the 3-point line, if a guy catches with his back to the basket, I think those are times where you can look to take a foul,” Malone said. “Damian Lillard, he’s like a Chris Paul, he’s been around the block and he knows what time it is. If you’re trying to take that foul, my concern is him making the three and giving up a four-point play. It’s really out of respect to Damian Lillard, his experience as a clutch player.
“There’s a lot of things you could sit here and second guess — lineups, give a foul, not give a foul. We won the game, that’s all that matters. We will watch and learn from all those end-of-game, late-game situations where we could have been better.”
Lillard’s reaction was predictable after a crushing Blazers defeat, now trailing Denver in the series 3-2 headed back to Portland for Game 6 on Thursday. The six-time All-Star had no interest in immediately reflecting on his historic night.
“It don’t matter,” Lillard said. “We lost the game.”
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