Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Damian Lillard, aka 'Silent assassin,' hits another game-winner as Trail Blazers beat Cleveland Cavaliers

Lillard was certainly a last-second marksman for the Blazers on Tuesday, calmly and confidently nailing a 30-foot step-back three with 0.4 seconds left to lift them to a 119-116 victory over the Cavaliers before 15,689 at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the second consecutive game-winner for Lillard — who hit a fadeaway jumper to beat the Detroit Pistons Sunday — and provided another remarkable moment in a season that continues to amaze.“It’s crazy that we’re pulling off wins like this,” Freeland said of the Blazers, who possess the NBA’s best record at 22-4.At the very least, it was a crazy outing for Lillard. Going head-to-head against another of the NBA’s marquee young point guards, Kyrie Irving, Lillard played one of the best games of his career, finishing with 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and one blocked shot. He made 11 of 23 shots, including 8 of 12 three-pointers, and flirted with or set multiple career highs.Lillard made the most threes of his career, tied his career-high in rebounds and registered the third-highest scoring output of his career. All the while, he became the first player to finish with at least 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and eight three-pointers since Jason Kidd did so on April 11, 1995. There were portions of the game in which Lillard simply took over — he opened by scoring the Blazers’ first five points, he scored nine consecutive points during one dynamic stretch in the third quarter and he scored six Blazers points in the decisive fourth. 

But what made his performance special was the game-winner. And, truth be told, it shouldn’t have been necessary. The Blazers built a 114-105 lead with 2:00 left after LaMarcus Aldridge nailed a turnaround 14-footer, and it seemed as if the Blazers would coast down the stretch.But out of nowhere, Irving caught fire. He drilled a three-pointer with 1:34 left, drilled another with 1:04 left after Lillard lost him in the corner and added a three-point play when he was fouled on a driving layup with 33.8 seconds left. Then Irving tied the game at 116-116 when he drove into the lane — drawing three Blazers defenders — and dished a pretty pass to Anderson Varejao for a wide open layup with 7.1 seconds left.“We let them get back into the game,” Lillard said of a Cavaliers’ late scoring barrage that produced 12 points in less than 90 seconds.But in the end, the Cavaliers (9-15) left a little too much time on the clock.After a timeout, the Blazers in-bounded the ball to Lillard on the perimeter and cleared out of the way to let him work. He sized up Alonzo Gee, who was guarding him one-on-one,disposable wooden cutlery and timed his play just right, faking like he was dashing to the hoop before pulling up outside the three-point arc and launching a step-back three. He released the ball just over Gee’s hand and watched it drop with 0.4 seconds left. 

Afterward, in another muted celebration, Lillard coolly flexed,Forklift forks flashed a menacing glare and bumped chests with Aldridge as teammates gathered around.“There is nothing to break down,” coach Terry Stotts said, when asked to dissect the winning play. “Damian had it going … he had a special night. I thought it was appropriate that he finished it like that.”After Irving missed a desperation three at the buzzer,paper drinking straws the Blazers had pulled off another dramatic victory,disposable paper cups improving to 12-2 on the road and 11-0 against the Eastern Conference this season. The Blazers’ 22-4 record is tied for the second-best 26-game start in franchise history, trailing only the 23-3 mark accumulated by the 1990-91 team. And while Lillard, who did a postgame cell phone interview with “SportsCenter” outside the locker room afterward, will justifiably receive much of the postgame hype, he had a lot of help. Aldridge continued his beastly play, recording 26 points,Lululemon Women's Pants 15 rebounds and four assists. Wesley Matthews made three three-pointers and had 19 points and Nicolas Batum overcame poor shooting (3-for-13, including 2-for-8 from three-point range) to finish with 14 points and nine rebounds. All the while, Freeland was an under-the-radar godsend for the Blazers, playing impressively in place of Robin Lopez, who battled foul trouble and sat all but 1:17 in the fourth quarter.

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