PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Moments after scoring a franchise-record 59 points in Portland’s victory over Utah, Damian Lillard said he believed he could top it.
The declaration was quintessential Lillard.
“A lot of players have played here, so just to think about that it’s a great honor, but hopefully I’ll beat it. Hopefully I’ll get past that,’ the Trail Blazers’ focused point guard said. “I think I will.”
Something else that happened following Saturday night’s 101-86 win was also typical of Lillard: He gave the game ball to Utah veteran Joe Johnson, who scored his 20,000th career point during the game.
“That’s an accomplishment for him as well,” Lillard said.
Lillard’s step-back 3-pointer with 1:49 left pushed him past Damon Stoudamire’s previous franchise record of 54 points, set in New Orleans on Jan. 14, 2005. He also surpassed Brandon Roy’s Moda Center record of 52 set back in 2008.
He pointed to his wrist, indicating “Lillard Time” – which becomes a thing in Portland when he takes over games – and then raised his hands before pounding his chest. He shouted to the standing Moda Center crowd: “I got this.”
He finished with nine 3s to match his career high and the Blazers’ record. He set another team record with his 27th game of 30 or more points this season. He is also the only Blazers player to have three games in a season with 50-plus points.
Oh, and he didn’t have a single turnover.
Coach Terry Stotts said simply, “Damian was phenomenal.”
“When he gets it going, it’s fun to watch,” Portland forward Meyers Leonard said.
Lillard came oh-so-close to reaching the 60-point milestone, but two missed free throws with 23.1 seconds left kept him at 59.
Earlier in the week at Utah, Portland fell 106-87. Lillard finished with 16 points, well below his average of 27 a game.
“I think he kind of knew in the back of his mind that he struggled last game against us, and he came in on a mission,” Utah’s Rodney Hood said. “He started off hot and it was hard to slow him down. Once a guy like that gets hot, there’s only so much you can do.”
But more important than the points, at least to Lillard, was the win.
Portland (40-40) has a hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the team was still threatened by the Denver Nuggets with two games to go. Portland had a pair of losses going into the game against the Jazz.
“Tonight was a game we absolutely had to have, especially with the last two times we played them, they defended really well,” Lillard said. “I was able to overcome that and have a great offensive performance in a much-needed game at the right time. That meant a lot to me.”
Lillard, the sixth overall selection in the 2012 draft, is in his fifth season with the Blazers. The two-time All-Star is also averaging 4.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
“Lillard Time” has become a phenomenon in Rip City, with a clever entrepreneur even selling a watch that has the phrase on its face. One fan painted a mural of Lillard tapping his wrist on his garage in Southeast Portland a couple of years back.
In December 2014, he hit a 3-pointer to force overtime in a game against Oklahoma City and exclaimed to the crowd: “Y’all know what time it is” and gestured to his wrist. But the exact game the phrase was coined is unclear.
His league-wide reputation as a clutch player was set the season before when he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Portland a six-game, first-round victory over the Houston Rockets and sent the team to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.
“Sometimes you just go out there and watch him when he’s doing his thing,” Portland forward Maurice Harkless said after Saturday’s game. “Tonight was one of those nights.”