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PORTLAND, Ore. — The 3-pointer against the Houston Rockets Jerseys with nine-tenths of a second remaining in Game 6 of the 2014 first round was more concussive because it won the series and sent the Portland Trail Blazers Jerseys to the Western Conference semifinals. Averaging 25.3 points while shooting 49.1 percent over the final three meetings with the Memphis Grizzlies Jerseys in the 2015 first round was a defining statement because it was prolonged stardom.
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Damian Lillard’s Saturday night, though. It was his typical playoff clutch even without a dagger in the final second. And his 32 points all may be misplaced amid the 21 rebounds and nine assists from Mason Plumlee, the 27 points from C.J. McCollum and Portland’s 96-88 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys at Moda Center that got the Trail Blazers within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
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Lillard Leads All Scorers
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Damian Lillard leads the Trail Blazers to a win in Game 3 scoring 32 points and adding 5 rebounds.
But make no mistake. What happened as the Blazers at the very least guaranteed a trip back to L.A. for a Game 5, with the chance to pull into a tie with the Clippers here on Monday night, was anything but understated. It was nothing less than the latest step in Lillard’s evolution into a superstar, turning this into a moment that will mean something into the future for a franchise with renewed optimism even if it ends up meaning nothing in these playoffs.
For all the postseason memories he cheap jerseys com had already stacked up by age 25, having long ago proved more clutch than a lot of players with triple the experience, there had never been dependable performances like this. LaMarcus Aldridge had been around before, Nicolas Batum too and sometimes Wesley Matthews. In the spring of 2016, though, the Blazers are unquestionably Lillard’s team and so it was on him and mostly him alone to stare down the 0-2 deficit. It’s what a dependable leader does. It’s especially what a dependable leader does after missing 26 of 39 shots those previous two games.
Lillard knew it and rather than shrink from the moment he accepted the responsibility. He wanted it. He had not played well in the first two games and the plan was to do something about it, because stars respond in the playoffs.
Not simply going for redemption in the form of the 32 points, a game high, while making 10 of 20 field goals and all nine free throws, Lillard charged at the pressure. The opening tip was like a starter pistol going off. There was an immediate energy, an example for the other Blazers to emulate whether his shot came around or not.
“His leadership really set the tone, I thought,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “He was taking charges. He was all over the place, flying all over the court, but him being very aggressive early definitely set the tone for them and the rest of team followed.”
The sense of urgency to have a big night came from none other than Lillard himself, aware not only that he didn’t generate much offense the first two games as the Trail Blazers labored to just 95 and 81 points after averaging 105.1 in the regular season. But it was worse than his poor shooting of 33 percent during the first two games in Los Angeles. He was struggling to get involved as the Clippers’ defense took him out of the game for long stretches.
By the time the Blazers practiced Friday, Lillard was openly noting how “I know I’ve got to be big in the next game” and “I struggled shooting the ball in the first two games. They’re giving me a lot of attention. They’re making it hard. When I do get good opportunities I’ve got to knock those shots down. I’ve got to do a better job getting the ball out of the double teams. Stuff like that.” There was solace in at least getting good looks early in Game 2, as opposed to Lillard not being able to find any opening, but also the counter that, bottom line, he wasn’t making many.
The Blazers by all indications were remaining positive after losing by 20 and 21 points in L.A., maybe because they had just spent about nine months in a similar situation, counted out since July as four of the five 2014-15 starters left as free agents or in trade and Lillard, the leftovers and replacements were talked down to about their impending lottery life. Being down in the series and being down emotionally were two different things.
“Because it happens,” Lillard said when asked how 33.3 percent and 0-2 had not put him in a bad place. “I think if you put anybody in that position, getting the type of attention that I’m getting, it’s like I literally can’t get a good look some times. All season long they’ve been pretty much the only team to trap me this way. And they’ve taken it up. They trap higher on the court and in more situations than they even did in the regular season. I’m sure of myself, you know what I mean? Sometimes you just don’t make shots. Sometimes teams have good game plans and when you take good shots and you don’t make them it turns into a bad-shooting game. It’s been two games where I haven’t shot well. The first game I didn’t get a lot of attempts up. But last game I came out, I was trying to be aggressive, it didn’t go in.”
While he was counting on all the Blazers to play better with the series now in Portland, Lillard didn’t wait for the energy boost delivered by one of the league’s best fan bases, amped even more than usual for the start of a game by McCollum being presented with the Most Improved Player award at midcourt a few minutes before tipoff. The crowd roared. Then Lillard did.
He quickly took control by aggressively looking for his shot, trying to put the Blazers where they need to be: his shoulders. Lillard had 12 points in the first 11 minutes, and a tone was set.
“The start that he got off to, I think it lifted everybody up because he didn’t shoot the ball well in the first two games and the fact that he got us going just encouraged everybody, like ‘We’re going to be OK,’ ” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “As far as the other things, his leadership — I’ve spoken about this before — his leadership in the huddles, not letting up, encouraging guys when he wasn’t in the game, allowing C.J. to have the game that he had. Just a lot of different things that you need from your best player.”
The Blazers had gotten some of these different thing from Lillard before. Never like this, though. Never when it was his team in the playoffs, never when he needed a personal recovery while also trying to show an entire team the way. There had never been postseason clutch like this.
Trail Blazers vs. Clippers Game 4 Preview
The GameTime crew takes a look ahead to Game 4 of the Trail Blazers and Clippers Western Conference first round series.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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