By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
PORTLAND, Ore. — Teammate Thomas Robinson says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was just a start for the kid.
If that’s the case, Damian Lillard‘s next trick will likely be a re-creation of that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan: “Over the freeway, through the window, off the scoreboard…”
It wasn’t just a dagger through the heart of the Rockets. It was the kind of shot that defines a career, creates a legend and trails you like a permanent ray of sunshine long after the sneakers and jersey come off and the hair has turned gray.
The official play-by-play sheet called it a “25-foot, 3-point jump shot.”
And Moby Dick was just another whale.
“I’ve seen him do that kind stuff, make shots like that for the past two years,” said Wes Matthews. “From the first day you saw him out on the practice court, you could tell from the way he carried himself. He’s just, well, different.”
It’s the difference that allows a neurosurgeon to poke around inside somebody’s brain with with the sheer confidence, maybe the utter arrogance, that he just won’t slip with the scalpel.
It’s the difference that diamond cutter has when he knows that he won’t turn that big, expensive bauble into cheap rock with a bad tap on the chisel.
“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said the 23 year old who might as well be an ageless Yoda doing tricks with a light saber. “Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”
It came after Chandler Parson‘s out-of-the-blue put-back had given the Rockets a 98-96 lead with 0.9 seconds left.
“The first thing I did when I saw Parson’s shot go in was look at the clock,” Lillard said. “I saw there was time. I knew we would have a shot. I just didn’t know what kind.”
It was the kind of shot that will replayed on the giant video screen at the Moda Center or whatever new-fangled arena comes next for as long as they play basketball in Portland. The biggest last-second shot in Blazers’ history.
It came fittingly on a night when the franchise honored the legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who led the Blazers to their only NBA championship in 1977 and died on Monday.
Rip City — R.I.P. City — indeed.
Up on the screen, there was grainy old color film of Dr. Jack in his wild ’70s disco era plaid pants and wide collars jumping for joy as his share-the-ball Blazers clinched the title.
Down there on the court, just an hour or so later, there were the linear descendants of those Blazers — who move without the ball, do all the little things and play unselfishly — leaping into each other’s arm.
“When he made the shot, I didn’t let him go for the next three minutes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, the workhorse who carried the Blazers, averaging 29.8 points in the series.
It was not just a Portland moment, but an NBA moment, the kind that should be frozen in Jurassic amber.
Lillard’s was the first buzzer-beating shot to clinch a playoff series since John Stockton did it to the Rockets’ ancestors in the 1997 Western Conference finals.
Put it a gold frame and hang it behind a velvet rope with:
– Ralph Sampson‘s rim-rattling prayer that beat the Lakers and sent the Rockets to the 1986 Western Conference Finals.
– Garfield Heard‘s heave for the Suns that forced triple overtime at Boston Garden In the 1976 Finals.
– Derek Fisher‘s running miracle with 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals that beat the Spurs.
– And yes, even Michael Jordan‘s hanging, leaning, drifting to the side jumper over a helpless Craig Ehlo in the Bulls’ Game 5 clincher of the first round in 1989.
That last one started a legend. To hear the Blazers tell it, their second-year guard is already writing the first few chapters of his own.
“Oh, he’s doing things all the time in practice and all season long in games that you just don’t expect and maybe don’t think are possible,” said center Robin Lopez.
“I’ve been around the NBA for 10 years and played a lot of games with a lot of players and seen a lot of things,” said guard Mo Williams. “I’ve seen shots, yeah. Have I seen a shot like that? Noooooo.”
It ended a series that had three overtime games, only one margin of victory that was by more than single figures. The only double digit lead of the night lasted just 16 seconds. The biggest lead of the second half by either team was four. The cumulative score of the entire series had the Rockets ahead by two points.
Just like they led by two with 0.9 seconds left and when Lillard zipped away from the defender Parson and came zooming wide open right toward the inbounding Nicolas Batum.
“I clapped my hands at Nico,” Lillard said. “He threw it to me and I turned. The rim was right there.”
And Lillard let it fly.
If we ain’t seen nothing yet, that next chapter will be a doozy.