Lillard's Big Night Not Enough
It was pretty heady stuff from Portland's super rookie, once again on a very big stage, and he did it right in front of the planet's best player.
After the game finally ended, and the Miami Heat were able to finally dispatch the pesky Blazers, my eyes were locked on LeBron James, who practically sprinted toward Portland's bench to find Damian Lillard. He gave him a hug, shared a few words, and then moved on. Lillard showed great respect, but didn't appear to be in awe. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen him in awe of anything.
It was another huge moment, during a season of huge moments, for Lillard. We mentioned on the broadcast that if you are looking for notoriety in this league, while playing in a bunch of very late games (as far as the east coast in concerned) out west, then work to turn a few heads in the big markets on the right coast. We all remember what Lillard did in New York, and last night he posted 33 in Miami, as the Blazers did themselves proud against the hottest team in the NBA.
Nationally, this game was all about LeBron, understandably so. He set an NBA record, posting 30 or more points for the sixth-straight game, shooting over 60 percent in all six. This has been the most dominant stretch of James' career, and that's saying something. He ended with 30 against Portland, shooting 9 of 13 from the field. He also had nine assists and five rebounds. Most importantly, for him anyway, the Heat beat the Blazers 117-104.
This was a very entertaining game. It was a game of runs, and I'm convinced had their been another five minutes on the clock Portland would have found a way to mount another charge.
The Heat wanted to hit Portland hard early, and they did. They jumped out to an 11-point lead with a storm of dunks, three pointers, and smothered the Blazers defensively. But, the Blazers calmly went about their business, didn't get rattled, and went on a huge run to take a 14-point lead. After the Heat put together a 21-6 to close the half, and then picked up right where they left off in the third quarter, they looked poised to run away and hide again. But, the Blazers then ripped off another run and reclaimed the lead.
The one thing that'll be forgotten is that the Blazers battled back to grab a 102-101 lead with just 4 and a-half minutes to go in this game. They did this despite LeBron's MVP-type play, and Miami shooting 60 percent from the field. Miami's final run though was finally too much for the Blazers, who went down swinging.
I've only mentioned two players so far, but it actually turned into a pretty good battle between six players. Miami's big three against Portland's big three (on this night anyway) of Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Wesley Matthews. Miami won this battle, but won it only 86-82.
As I mentioned on the broadcast, when the Blazers shoot a high percentage, up until three games ago, it's almost always resulted in a win. Earlier in the trip they had been 18-2 when shooting just 45 percent or better. After shooting 53 percent against the Heat, the Blazers have now lost three-straight games when shooting 45 percent or better. Before the Orlando game the Blazers had been 9-0 on the season when shooting 50 percent or better. They're now 9-2.
On Sunday Lillard went 1 for 16 from the field, and a lot was written about how he perhaps has finally hit "the rookie wall" and maybe is showing signs of being worn down. He assured everyone after the game that he was fine, still confidence, and not worried. In Miami his play certainly put everyone at ease. It was typical Lillard. He was brilliant.
We've finally reached the final stop on this long trip, as we arrived in New Orleans very late last night. I'd by lying if I said everyone isn't road weary. When you get to this point of the season it isn't just this trip that's taking its toll, it's the combination of all of them, and of all the games that seem strung together as one long one after a while. When you're having success you can almost ride a wave of emotion and adrenaline. But, when you're fighting through a tough stretch, like this team is, all the late nights and miles travelled are much more impactful. In short, we're all ready to come home.
Talk to you tonight.