As the two teams took a break during battle, it looked like more of the same for the Portland Trail Blazers in this Western Conference quarterfinal Playoffs series. They were trailing the Memphis Grizzlies three games to none and appeared to be down and out, down 80-70 with 8:48 to go in Game 4 on Mon. April 27.
But Lillard wasn’t having any of it, man. The former Weber State basketball star wasn’t quitting, he told his teammates. And neither should they. The little engine that could out of Oakland, Ogden and now Oregon wearing the No. 0 as a tribute to all three burgs was telling his guys to keep fighting.
“I’ve never seen him like that,” said teammate Nicolas Batum. “Not like that. Not with so much passion. There was blood in his eyes.” That’s right; Lillard was ready to kill somebody. Not literally, of course–but figuratively, on the basketball court.
And so out came the Blazers, with Lillard leading the charge (see the video). He knocked down a 17-footer. On the next possession, Batum helped the cause by draining two free throws. Then Lillard splashed an 18-footer.
Time was ticking but the Blazers were clicking. Guard and teammate C.J. McCollum even got into the act, dribbling down the lane for a layup, cutting Memphis’ lead even further. Meanwhile, the Blazers D–the one aspect of the team that left for most of the series–came to play, stuffing the Grizzlies in the lane, in the key and well, everywhere.
Suddenly, the big, bad Grizzlies didn’t look so menacing, after all. With 1:58 to play, Lillard pulled up and canned a big time three point shot. But, the kicker on the play was that he was fouled by a Memphis player, leading to a potentially series changing four-point play.
Dame’s been here before; remember Houston last season? Of course you do. And so he splashed the free throw, giving the Blazers their series-changing 88-86 lead in the most unlikely of moments–even if you know you should never underestimate Lillard.
Two plays later, Lillard didn’t find himself as open to take the shot and so he kicked it over to McCollum, who was. Game over, baby. In the meantime, Lillard was the hero but in typical fashion, he deferred to his teammates who helped the team stay alive for one more game.
“The big thing we’ve been talking about is having heart and playing with pride and just not being swept,” Lillard said. “People always say, ‘Nobody’s ever done it, coming back from 0-3.’ And we didn’t want to focus on that. We wanted to focus on today and doing everything we had to do to give ourselves a chance to keep playing.”
Lillard continued to explain his rationale for pushing his teammates. “So in the huddles, I wanted to just do my best job of keep reminding the team that, ‘Hey, this is it. We have to stay locked in, keep playing with energy, keep pushing the ball,’ just the things that we might not even recognize we’re doing,” added Lillard. “Just kind of bring it to light consistently, so we don’t forget what’s giving us a chance in the game tonight.”
For the game, Lillard scored a few points–32, to be exact, helping one guy who designed his Game 4 signature Adidas shoes in magic marker–er, teammate Robin Lopez–and the rest of the guys score a most improbable, but totally cool victory.