Dame Time took over primetime Sunday night.
After surprising Rip City for nine seasons with playoff beatings, notable individual scoring runs and too many decisive performances to count, Damian Lillard found another setting, one of the greatest in the NBA, to unleash another layer of his star power. .
Lillard scored 32 points, including the game-closing triple, to catapult Team LeBron to a convincing 170-150 victory over Team Durant in the NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. It was the most points a Portland Trail Blazers player has scored in the annual display, and Lillard delivered them in stunning fashion, mixing alley-oop dunks with three-point bombs in midfield while scoring the last 11 points of his team.
Playing during a pandemic in a crowded, condensed one-day event that also included the 3-Point Contest, the Dunk Contest, and the Skills Challenge, Lillard somehow managed to get a huge chunk of the spotlight.
“It feels a little crazy,” Lillard said. “I couldn’t even imagine some of the things that have happened in my career.”
Lillard, who just lost a starting spot in the game due to a tiebreaker, came off the bench for 21 minutes Sunday, making 11 of 20 shots, including 8 of 16 3s. But it was how the stitches came in that drew attention.
During a pregame meeting on the bench, Lillard said, he and teammates Stephen Curry and Chris Paul made a pact: They would all try to finish an alley-oop dunk and hit a half court shot before the night was out. Lillard kept his end of the deal in the first half, launching a balloon from Paul with 1:19 left in the second quarter and dunking a deep bomb about a minute later.
It was just a joke.
Lillard went on to make three 3-pointers from near the middle of the court, including the game winner, so one wonders if Logo Lillard will soon be altered to Halfcourt Lillard. He had threatened before the season to add half court three to his arsenal, but had yet to try in one game. An exhibition contest against the best players in the game, it turned out to be the perfect place to dust it off.
“I wanted to try it out in some live action,” Lillard said. “It felt decent, it felt good, like a normal jumper. I was able to shoot it quite easily. “
Lillard, a prominent long-range shooter who has extended his reach to the logo in recent years, said he has felt embarrassed about attempting a three half court during a game “out of respect” for his teammates. Why jeopardize a defensive position with a low-percentage random shot?
But it is something that Lillard practices regularly and is confident in its accuracy, even from these distances. So now that you’ve been successful in an exhibition game, don’t be surprised to see it in a real one.
“I think I’m going to do it,” he said. “If I do, I definitely will.”
At the very least, you’ve earned the approval of a former critic. Paul George, whom Lillard pounded with a 37-foot buzzer to win a first-round playoff series in 2018, said he now regrets calling it a “bad shot” afterward.
On Sunday, in a postgame Zoom interview, George told reporters that Lillard (and Curry) had developed a “crazy” range and are hitting deep 3s with such ease and precision that those shots are now “well within their range. rank”.
“It’s a great opportunity,” George said, laughing. “Thumbs up.”
But while Lillard’s deep pumps generated a lot of buzz Sunday, it was his late-game scoring streak that gave Team LeBron a win. For the second season in a row, the All-Star Game rules dictated that the game ends only when a team reaches 170 points. Lillard pushed Team LeBron over the threshold by scoring his last 11 points, completing a layup before hitting three straight triples to end the game.
The last one came from, where else? – half court, as Lillard dribbled down the left side, he stepped across the half court line and threw the spiker. As the play unfolded, Curry stayed on the other end and prematurely bid farewell to the 2,500 fans in attendance, effectively calling out Lillard’s kickoff shot.
After the dagger fell through the net, Lillard raised his arms and touched his wrist, bringing Dame Time into primetime.
Perhaps the only thing that eluded Lillard Sunday was the All-Star Game MVP trophy. That was for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who completed a perfect 16 of 16 from the field and scored 35 points, the most of the game.
Curry added 28 points, thanks to eight triples, and he, too, fulfilled the point guard pact to finish an alley-oop and score three at midfield. Paul, who dazzled with 16 assists, made his dunk but never had a chance to attempt a shot from midfield. It’s the only thing that didn’t go well for the LeBron team.
“It was fun,” Lillard said. “It’s exciting to race around with a guy like (Curry). That’s what makes All-Star Weekend, All-Star Weekend. “