Portland guard Damian Lillard is going long in the Trail Blazers’ quest for a deep NBA playoff run.
Lillard has emerged as the star of the NBA restart in the quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, and now that his exploits have helped the Blazers to a first-round matchup against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, he is not about to let up.
Lillard scored 34 points -- including a pair of long-range three-pointers in the fourth quarter -- as the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers beat LeBron James and the Lakers 100-93.After draining a 30-foot jump shot, Lillard danced to “Blow the Whistle” by rapper Too Short as he positioned himself on defense having knotted the score at 87-87.
Then came a pull-up jumper from 36 feet -- near the halfcourt logo -- over Lakers star Anthony Davis two minutes later that gave Portland a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Obviously it’s a big time shot,” Lakers star James said. “It was a breakdown defensively. He makes big shots and takes big shots. Commend him for that.”
Tuesday’s opener in the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series could have been seen as offering some breathing room to the Blazers -- who faced a string of must-win games in the bubble just to secure their post-season berth.
Lillard was the man who saw them through.
He averaged 37.6 points and 9.6 assists in eight seeding games, getting a unanimous nod as Most Valuable Player of the restart.
In addition to prolific scoring -- 51 points against the Philadelphia 76ers and 61 against the Dallas Mavericks -- Lillard has been adept at enabling teammates.
“I’ve never played with someone who lifted his team on the court with his play and as a leader,” said Carmelo Anthony, whose three-pointer off an assist by Lillard with less than three minutes to play helped seal the Lakers’ fate on Tuesday.
“He genuinely cares for his teammates. What he’s been able to do is amazing. He’s the top guy I’ve played with.”
The Lakers, back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years, will be eager to turn the tables in game two.
For all the accolades he has received in the restart, Lillard wasn’t celebrating yet.
“The job is far away from being done,” he said, “but I’m proud of our effort.”