Damian Lillard nearly brought the Blazers back. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
Before we move on completely from Tuesday's 12-game slate, let's give a brief head-nod and respectful clap to Damian Lillard, who briefly turned into a flame-engulfed, all-consuming monster in an attempt to steal victory from the jaws of defeat against the Sacramento Kings. (Which, amazingly enough, might not even have been the most remarkable falls-just-short-comeback of a jam-packed Tuesday.)
With 1:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, Kings guard Isaiah Thomas hit a runner to put Sacramento up 117-105; at this point, according to our friends at InPredictable — whom you might remember from our consideration of the Cleveland Cavaliers' epic comeback against the Orlando Magic last week — the Blazers' probability of pulling out the win stood at less than 0.01 percent. Here is what the Blazers' sophomore point guard thought of those odds:
First, a calm pull-up triple from two dribbles past half-court. Next, a head's-up runout layup following a Thomas miss. Then, after a double-clutch airball that resulted in a scramble situation, a pure right-wing 3 to pull within five with 26.5 seconds left, which surely led to some sweaty palms for at least a few Sacramentans.
After an immediate foul and a split pair by Sacramento forward Quincy Acy, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts dials up an absolutely beautiful after timeout call (broken down here by Hardwood Paroxysm's Scott Rafferty) to get Lillard a wide-open look from the right corner, which he splashes and which I enjoyed enough that I think we should break out for its own separate re-watch:
That set the stage for Lillard to answer a pair of Thomas free throws by drawing a phantom foul call on the Kings triggerman that earned him three freebies of his own, putting the Blazers — who had trailed by 12 just 54 seconds earlier — within a single bucket of all-even with 16.5 seconds remaining.
As you now know, the Blazers never got that bucket. Thomas made two more free throws to seal a 22-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance, Lillard came up a bit shy on the kind of step-back 3-pointer we've seen him make a number of times, and one last buzzer-beating attempt went wide left to seal a disappointing 123-119 loss, Portland's second straight to one of the league's worst teams.
But while the post-game focal points (very deservedly) were the big games from DeMarcus Cousins (35 points, 13 rebounds) and Rudy Gay (32 points on 16 shots, five rebounds and four assists), Lillard's mammoth final frame put him in the Blazers' record books:
Damian Lillard: 26 points in 4th quarter (breaks Terry Porter's franchise record for points in a single quarter - 25 pts in 1992)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2014
The 26 points are amazing enough; that he did more than half of that work in just 49 seconds (beginning at 1:05, ending with his final free throw at 16.5) is downright absurd. Lillard finished with 41 points on 24 shots, seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes, although he's probably kicking himself at least a little bit today about those six turnovers.
In the grand scheme of wins and losses, of course, coming close only counts for so much. But to hear the Kings tell it after escaping an 89-point fourth quarter with their 11th win of the season, that Portland even came close offered perhaps the most convincing argument yet that Lillard is a bad, bad man late in ballgames. From Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press:
"That's the craziest game I've ever been a part of," Cousins said. "I could not wait until the end. I don't ever want to be in a situation with the ball in Damian Lillard's hands. I'm glad we got the win, but that was a scary thing." [...]
"That clock was moving very, very slow," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "Damian just kept on coming." [...]
"I just didn't want to lose the game," Lillard said.
Yeah, Damian. We figured that part out.
Video via Dawk Ins.
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