The Blazers never die
Thanks to Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland is never out of a game.
Do not count out the Portland Trail Blazers.
Even if you’re leading by 10 points in the fourth quarter. Even if you’re a legitimate title contender or the defending champion. Even if you took that 10-point lead and maintained it with just over two minutes left in regulation. You don’t let up at any point because you do not count out the Trail Blazers.
The San Antonio Spurs learned this two weeks ago. The Oklahoma City Thunder got a similar lesson the day before Christmas Eve. And on Tuesday night, the Toronto Raptors joined the study group of a masterclass taught by Professor Damian Lillard and his T.A., LaMarcus Aldridge (also known as T.A.L.A. now).
The Trail Blazers have now completed three miraculous comeback, overtime victories over top teams since Dec. 19, finishing the year on a roll that’s hard to believe. In most cases, a thrilling win like the 102-97 stunner over the Raptors on Tuesday would qualify as a game of the season contender. Instead, it’s just a typical Portland rally.
And because Portland is running a seminar on how to complete amazing comebacks, let’s grade them.
Dec. 19: Trail Blazers 129, Spurs 119 (3OT)
Portland battled San Antonio for 58 minutes on Dec. 19 before blowing things open in the third overtime. The Spurs led for the vast majority of the game, even extending a nine-point advantage early in the fourth quarter, but the Trail Blazers used their potent three-point shooting to quickly get back into the game.
Three-point shooting. That’s the big reason teams struggle to put Portland away. The Trail Blazers are so good at hitting threes — No. 2 in threes per game and No. 4 in three-point shooting percentage, per NBA.com — that it’s hard to put together a lead that’s out of their reach.
And as long as things are relatively close, it’s always possible that Lillard and company get hot like they did against San Antonio. Lillard finished with a career-high 43, going nuts over the final quarter and three overtimes with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting in a 24-minute span
This is what we mean by going nuts:
By the third overtime, he was toying with the Spurs.
Lillard finished with 43 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals on 16-of-29 shooting from the field. “This was a big win for us, probably our best win of the season,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said after the game.
Indeed, it was spectacular. But Stotts had no idea what was coming next.
GPA: 4.0. Bonus points for Lillard outburst, three (!!!) overtimes, and a crazy throwback performance by Tim Duncan (32 points, 10 rebounds).
Dec. 23: Trail Blazers 115, Thunder 111 (OT)
Four days later, Lillard kept the heroics going by leading the Trail Blazers back from an 11-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation against OKC. Combining with Aldridge, the duo led Portland on a 16-5 run capped by a last-second three from Lillard that looked awfully familiar:
He finished the duel against Russell Westbrook with 40 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, going pound for pound with the Thunder’s MVP candidate (40 points, 10 rebounds, six assists).
The overtime wasn’t nearly as exciting, since Portland jumped out to a lead and held it throughout the five minutes, but it’s incredible that this game even got there in the first place.
GPA: 3.5. Another ridiculous game from Lillard, the comeback, the buzzer beater, Russ being Russ. This game had it all.
Dec. 30: Trail Blazers 102, Raptors 97 (OT)
Remember the old Kardiac Kids from the NFL in the early 1980s? The Trail Blazers like that, except there’s no reason to be nervous as long as Lillard and Aldridge are running the show. Even on a night when Lillard didn’t have his best stuff, the Trail Blazers had their other star player step up and carry the load in a big game.
Despite missing several recent games with a respiratory illness, Aldridge looked fine in recording 23 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Toronto. He hit a number of big shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter and defensively played a big role in limiting the Raptors to 40 percent shooting from the field.
Lillard wasn’t as brilliant in this one, but he still finished with 26 points and nine assists while making a number of big plays in overtime. During three straight possessions early in the extra period, Lillard hit a three-pointer then set up back-to-back threes by Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, giving the Trail Blazers a 9-0 run in just over a minute.
That would prove to be enough to hang on, which is good because I’m not sure how many more replay reviews we could’ve tolerated. As fun as this game was, it was also a good example of why the NBA needs to speed up its review process.
GPA: 3.0. Not as flashy but still exciting. The pacing was muddled by extended replay reviews.