Damian Lillard has special performance, but Nuggets top Trail Blazers in 2OT classic

Damian Lillard in Nuggets-Trail Blazers Game 5
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
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Damian Lillard has steadfastly refused to leave the Trail Blazers for a super team: “What is the challenge or the fun in that?”

Lillard found a challenge tonight. He created A LOT of fun.

But victory proved elusive.

Despite Lillard scoring 55 points and forcing multiple overtimes with 3-pointers in the final seconds of a period, the Nuggets beat Portland 147-140 in double overtime in Game 5 Wednesday.

Denver jumped ahead 14-1 and by 22 points early in the second quarter. Lillard (the first player with 55 points and 10 assists in a playoff game) led the Trail Blazers back into contact.

Denver led by four and had the ball with 20 seconds left in regulation. Lillard assisted a C.J. McCollum 3-pointer then, after the Nuggets made a pair of free throws, hit the tying 3-pointer:

Denver led by eight with just over a minute left in the first overtime. Lillard led the Trail Blazers back, hitting another tying 3-pointer:

The Nuggets finally went ahead for good in double overtime, when Nikola Jokic (38 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks) made this brilliant pass for a 3-pointer by Michael Porter Jr. (26 points and 12 rebounds):

Teams in Denver’s position in a best-of-seven series – holding home-court advantage, up 3-2 entering a road Game 6 – have won the series 90% of the time, including 51% of the time in Game 6. Nuggets-Trail Blazers Game 6 is Thursday in Portland.

However, the Trail Blazers have experience in this situation. They fell behind 3-2 in a second-round series against Denver in 2019 then won two straight – including Game 7 on the road – to advance.

Shorthanded with Jamal Murray, Will Barton and P.J. Dozier injured, Denver again got key contributions from less-heralded guards tonight. Monte Morris (28 points, five assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes) was both his usual steady self and highly impactful. Austin Rivers (18 points and seven assists in 47 minutes) hit some big shots.

Lillard didn’t get that type of help from his supporting cast. Especially in overtime:

  • Damian Lillard: 17 points on eight shots.
  • Other Blazers: two points on 14 shots

Really, Lillard’s brilliance stood in stark contrast to his teammates throughout the game. He shot:

  • 12-of-17 on 3-pointers (71% to teammates’ 29%)
  • 5-of-7 on 2-pointers (71% to teammates’ 44%)
  • 9-of-10 on free throws (90% to teammates’ 84%)

Lillard’s 12 3-pointers set a single-game playoff record (topping the 11 Klay Thompson made in Game 6 of the 2016 Warriors-Thunder Western Conference finals).

Just five players – Michael Jordan (twice), Elgin Baylor, Donovan Mitchell, Charles Barkley and Wilt Chamberlain – have topped Lillard’s 55 points in a playoff game. Rick Barry, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan another three times also scored 55 in a postseason game.

Whatever numbers you put on it, Lillard was absolutely incredible. His performance should be cherished.

We should appreciate Lillard embracing his situation in Portland and doing whatever he can – sometimes even more than seems realistic – to drag his team to victory.

Even if he comes up just short.