For Damian Lillard, ‘Dame Time’ comes from the within with Portland Path Blazers
OKLAHOMA CITY – Damian Lillard had 5 minutes and 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter to hit two hard dribbles with his left hand, put his man on his hip and defend defender Al Horford.
It was a one-point game led by Oklahoma City Thunder, and like Lillard, he hit the eject button to get up and fire Horford’s face, the kind of shot that the mythology “Dame Time” was on “based.
The problem was that up to this point, from a 3 point distance, he was 1 out of 9. It wasn’t your typical Lillard game, with a deluge of logo shots and dazzling edge surfaces. He was small, he was left, he was right. And this one about Horford – this one missed very briefly and left.
Lillard gave the battered blazers a boost last month behind those moments, carrying the burden of clutch time on his shoulders as he tried to bring in young talents like Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little. But the big spots, the crunch time shots, belong to Lillard.
But with the icy air in Oklahoma so cool the state was dealing with an energy emergency. Basically every light in the arena was turned off, except those that lit the floor. Lillard was freezing. And not in the good way.
The Thunder, as they have often done this season, scrapped with their young players and hung in the game long enough for energy and athleticism to wear down an opponent. Hamidou Diallo jumped all over the floor; Lu There plowed his way to the edge, covered with snow. Blazer’s 20-point lead resulted in a five-point deficit four minutes from time. There was a now-or-never point for Dame Time.
“There are concerns,” Lillard admitted. He said he looked at the scoreboard when the Blazers’ lead dipped to 93-84 in hopes his team could hit two quick 3s, calm the run of the thunder, and then take control for an easy landing.
“But I just thought, ‘Man, that would be a big loss for us. We played so well.’ But when I got back on the pitch, I was like … “he said, pausing for a moment.
“I never think that there is a game that I cannot take control of,” he said. “When I’m out there, I feel how hard the defense is trying to stop me. When I see how vigilant and how active they are trying to stop me, it just lets me know they are concerned. They are still concerned how good or how bad i hit the ball. And to me it is even more mental that even though they know i’m not hot, they are still concerned and i want to show them why they should be concerned and why they should be still be nervous. “
Enes Kanter comments on Damian Lillard’s amazing piece and says he has never seen anything like it.
His first late game 3 came at 4:11 am when Dort flew past him with a fake pump. Lillard took a dribble and quietly drained it. Thunder’s lead decreased to two and ended a 23-4 run that OKC had opened the fourth quarter with. With the Thunder on high alert now, it prepared Trent for corner 3 on the next trip, and the Blazers had the lead back.
On the next possession of the ball, Lillard worked to shake off there from him and force a switch. It flipped back into a quick release over Isaiah Roby and hit the bottom of the net. A few properties later, Lillard had isolated there. There, a dogged defense attorney who had worked tirelessly to pursue Lillard, stayed with every push, every deke, every fake. As the shot clock ran down, Lillard walked behind his back and took a big step back to rock into a 3 with a little more lean and a little more arc because of the excellent defense. Anyway – it was Dame Time. Two trips later, Lillard hit another for the official dagger to give the Blazers a fifth straight win, 115-104 against OKC.
Lillard started the game 1:10 from a distance of 3 points. He finished 4-of-4. Just a standard game with 31 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists – and one win.
“It’s like a cheat code – I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Enes Kanter. “And I’ve played with some great players. But I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s wild.”
The lady-time mentality is well documented, and Lillard has been answering questions about it since his first famous hit hit the clutch – in 2014 to eliminate the Houston Rockets. But he revealed Tuesday that part of unlocking the mindset for big moments is in his own mind game with himself.
“I don’t know why,” he said, “I’ll just do it.”
Stephen A. Smith apologizes for overlooking Damian Lillard’s exceptional accomplishments this season.
The attention of the defenders, the fear he hears in the assistant coaches’ voices asking the players to stay on top of him, can give Lillard a shot of confidence even if the shot doesn’t go off.
“It’s encouraging at these moments,” said Lillard. “Sometimes I fall short. Sometimes they do it well enough or the shots don’t go in, but in those moments I tell myself, if they leave, they might go back and say, ‘This is why we wanted you to do it do it so it doesn’t happen to us. ‘I want to do this to the opposing team. “
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Lillard said he doesn’t remember exactly when he started playing these mind games with himself – maybe his second season, he suspected – and has no explanation for how he mentally brings himself to this place to turn it on.
“It’s internal,” he said. “You just ask. You are just asking the extra of yourself. There is nothing that it comes from [Blazers head] Trainer [Terry] Stotts, nothing comes from there [NBA development coach] Phil Beckner, none of that. It’s just inside, I’m like, “I have to find a way.” This is an opportunity to stand up and rise great. “
At the end of the third quarter, Lillard bumped on his knees with Dort and took a long time to get rid of it. The Blazers fouled so he could check on the bench, and even after he got the all-clear, Lillard watched as he rubbed and flexed his knee at times. It was a brief moment of terror for the blazers, who have already dealt with a wave of wear and tear. That wear and tear has given some of their young players an opportunity to develop which could benefit the team in the long run. As last postseason showed, without Lillard there is no Dame Time, which means there are no blazers.
Therefore, he accepts and understands the responsibility that he carries, especially without injuring his back space closer to CJ McCollum. And even on a night when it didn’t happen, Lillard’s inner voice continued to speak to him, telling him that there was an opportunity for a moment.
“I’ve told myself that and I’ve often come up short. But it’s a real thing,” he said. “I always talk like that to myself. You have to find a way. You have to get started. You shot the whole game badly, but this is a new beginning. I always talk like this to myself.”
Freezing. In the good way.