Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has made a strong case for his end-of-game prowess so far this NBA season, hitting several big baskets in crunch time for the league's most pleasantly surprising team. Yet it's important to remember that our ability to identify baskets as clutch often depends on other circumstances, including what occurs after these shots. If the opponent answers one of these baskets with a clutch moment of his own, then it's easy to forget everything before it.
So let's not mince words. On Monday night against the New Orleans Hornets, Lillard hit yet another huge shot. It's just that Hornets guard Tyreke Evans had the last word.
With 16 seconds remaining in regulation and the Hornets up 108-105, Lillard grabbed a rebound off a missed Jrue Holiday three-pointer, took the ball up the court on his own, and launched a long-range bomb officially listed at 27-feet but potentially a little farther from the hoop. He hit it (with the help of a friendly roll and carom off the glass), adding to his clutch resume and giving the Blazers a chance to take the game in overtime.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, Lillard left the Hornets with too much time.
With 10 seconds on the clock, New Orleans opted not to call time out, instead letting Evans calmly dribble up the floor, size up the defending (and shorter) Mo Williams, and take a mid-range jumper from the right wing. He drained it, and LaMarcus Aldridge's Anthony Davis-challenged shot hit the top of the backboard as time expired. The Hornets won 110-108 in an exciting finish, moving within one game of .500 at 14-15.
To be clear, it's not as if Lillard's reputation will take a hit after this game — he just won't get the benefit of people remembering another big late-game shot due to Evans's answer. This is an arbitrary reaction, of course, but such is the trouble of trying to decide which players are the most clutch. Often, the only sane reaction is to celebrate the fact that a game could end this thrillingly. Lillard did something incredible, and Evans did the same against some pretty solid defense. Maybe we should just be thankful.
In a more tangible takeaway from the game, Hornets fan got a glimpse at the team they hoped had been assembled this offseason. Although shooting guard Eric Gordon missed his third straight game with a hip injury, key Hornets like Evans (20 points in 29 minutes off the bench), Holiday (31 points and 13 assists), and potential All-Star Anthony Davis (27 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks) all put forth excellent efforts in the win. New Orleans are still on the outside of the West's playoff picture and are about to start a four-game road trip that includes games at the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, but this game showed what the team can be at or near its best.
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