The star power of former
standout Damian Lillard continues to soar.
On Friday night, he shot down the Houston Rockets.
Lillard's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Trailblazers a 99-98 win over Houston to win the NBA best-of-seven series in six games, Portland's first series win since 2000.
Down 98-96 with 0.9 seconds left, Portland's Nicolas Batum inbounded the ball from near midcourt and found Lillard, who was being chased by Chandler Parsons after a double screen by Mo Williams and Wes Matthews.
The 2012-13 Rookie of the Year clapped three times demanding the ball before getting the pass. He squared up and hit nothing but net from 25 feet out, setting off an eruption at the Moda Center.
Lillard finished with 25 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and three steals. He made six of Portland's nine 3-pointers. He furthered his reputation as one of the league's top clutch players.
Considering Lillard was barely a mid-major recruit out of Oakland and made his mark at little-known Weber State in Utah, this story just gets better. Especially for Portland fans.
Shortly after the game he took the microphone from the PA announcer while the fans were still celebrating and exclaimed: "Rip Cityyyyyyy!"
He then told ESPN of the final play: "First off, coach (Terry Stotts) drew up a great play. He wanted me to come to the ball hard. I figured it would be really hard to get my hands on it, but (Williams) and (Matthews) set great screens. … I just ran to the ball, I squared my feet up, I raised up and snapped my wrist. … I got a good look and I'm excited it went in."
The shot and win capped one of seven remarkable first-round NBA playoff series. Three of the Portland-Houston games went into overtime and after Parsons made a follow shot with 0.9 seconds left to break a 96-all tie, this one appeared headed for game seven.
"It came down to one play and we made one more play and were able to win the series," Lillard said. "It feels great."
As composed as Lillard was on the final shot, he was equally so during the postgame interview. He credited the Rockets with a great series, his teammates and coaching staff.
He then talked about his team's resiliency, something he personally knows plenty about.
"We knew there was going to be ups and downs throughout the series," he said. "We just had to keep our heads right, stay focused and stay together. It came down to one play. We executed and we were able to get it done."
Lillard's high school coach Orlando Watkins, who is still the Oakland High coach, said his prized pupil always had his eye on a bigger prize.
"He's one of those kids who has always been very focused and very driven," Watkins told MaxPreps in January
. "When other kids were out partying, Damian was working on his dribbling or jump shot."
He averaged 22.4 points and 5.2 assists his senior year at Oakland after averaging 19.4 points as a junior.
Though Lillard's rookie season with the Trailblazers seemed hard to match, he told Watkins there were four areas he wanted to improve in his second NBA season: Shooting percentage, rebounding, scoring average and leadership.
His shooting percentage was virtually the same, but the other areas he indeed improved, averaging 20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He made almost 40 percent of his 3-pointers.
"The most important thing is he wants to make the playoffs," Watkins said in January.
Now the Trailblazers have a historic series win and will face the San Antonio versus Dallas winner in the second round.
Though most have been surprised by Lillard's progression, Watkins said could definitely see something special.
"He wanted to be an NBA player," Watkins said. "And that gave him a chance. … He was built to want to be the best. Awards have never been important. But he always has played with a little chip like he wanted to be better than what most people thought."