Sure, that nationally-televised-coming-out-party that Damian Lillard had last Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs was nice and all, but you know what it was missing? A game-winning shot. I mean, a 29-7-6 against a Western Conference powerhouse is impressive, but a final-seconds dagger to ice the game? That really would've put an exclamation point on things.
On Sunday night against the New Orleans Hornets, the Portland Trail Blazers' rookie point guard showed he's not averse to switching up his punctuation:
Yep. Definitely a louder, more emphatic ending. Good edit, kid.
With 4.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 92-all tie — a game the Blazers had led 16 midway through the third and by a dozen at the start of the final frame, before a seven-minute, 17-7 New Orleans run evened things up — Portland coach Terry Stotts handed his rookie point guard the ball to trigger the inbounds for one last possession. According to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian, the first option was for Lillard to find Nicolas Batum racing to the corner for a 3-point try, but Batum — who'd had a marvelous all-around game, becoming the first player in nearly seven years to post a "5-by-5," notching at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals in the same game — so Lillard had to look elsewhere.
Instead, he tossed it into long-range threat Luke Babbitt, who handed the ball back to a cutting Lillard and quickly set a screen on inbounds defender Greivis Vasquez. The idea was to force a switch that put 6-foot-10-inch Ryan Anderson — not the fleetest of foot, and not all that accustomed to defending on the perimeter, despite how much time he spends out there on offense — on the hiccup-quick Lillard. Vasquez made it under the initial pick to stay with Lillard, but Babbitt set himself again as Lillard came left-to-right and got Greivis the second time. As Lillard made his first move back to the right, Anderson dropped a step toward the basket, his instincts likely prodding him to both clear space for Vasquez to fight back under the screen and give some cushion to improve his chances of staying with Lillard if he chose to attack the rim around Babbitt's screen.
When he saw that Vasquez was caught up, Anderson stepped forward to pick up Lillard, but by then, the guard had risen for a deep jumper with two ticks left on the clock, and Anderson's contest was just late.
It was the first game-winning shot of Lillard's NBA career, and after the game, the rookie told Ben Golliver of SI.com's The Point Forward that both he and Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool were very aware of that fact:
"We both said I was due for one," Lillard remembered. "I had had a couple of chances to hit game-winners and I hadn't made any. He said, 'Just believe in yourself,' and I did, and I made the shot." [...]
"When I let it go, I got it off over the top of his hands," he said. "Then I was looking, I was like, 'That looks good, that's going in.' It went in and we won the game."
Initially, the shot appeared to go through at the final buzzer, leaving no time for a New Orleans answer; an official review, however, put 0.3 seconds back on the clock. According to the so-called "Trent Tucker Rule," that left the Hornets with enough time to be able to inbound the ball and attempt a 3-pointer for the tie. Instead, though, Anderson tossed an alley-oop to forward Lance Thomas for a layup that cemented a 95-94 Blazers win.
After the game, Hornets coach Monty Williams explained the final-second 'oop in a way that made it seem like he wasn't up on the Tucker rule, according to Anne M. Peterson of The Associated Press:
"You need .04 to get the shot off, so we just ran a play for execution. There was not time for us to get a shot off, with them grabbing and holding Ryan it was going to be tough for him to get a shot off, so we were working on execution," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "According to the rules you need .04 to get a shot off. It was a situation where we worked on something we would need in the future." [...]
"There was not a lot of time on the clock," Anderson said. "It would have been tough, I don't even know if we could have got a shot off in time. Coach was saying you need .04 to get set and get a shot off."
The Oregonian's Jason Quick tweeted after the game that Williams told him he did know the rule, but that the referees had told him that four-tenths of a second were needed to catch the ball with two hands and shoot a 3-pointer. Anderson had made seven of his 10 3-point attempts on the night en route to a Hornets-high 26 points; he leads the NBA in long-range makes (80) and attempts (184), and is tied for 19th in the league in 3-point accuracy (43.5 percent).
Lillard finished with 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-10 from long range, with four assists and just one turnover in more than 38 1/2 minutes. The frontcourt trio of Batum, J.J. Hickson (a game-high 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting, plus 16 rebounds) and LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points before a final-minute left ankle sprain) led the Blazers, who won their third straight contest to get within one game of .500 on the season at 11-12.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check out the game-winner elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association.