Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
In this edition, we’ll relive the greatest Portland Trail Blazers moment of the 21st century: Damian Lillard’s series winning buzzer beater against the Houston Rockets.
In many ways, the 21st century has not been one to remember for the Portland Trail Blazers. Their hearts were broken in the 2000 Western Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers. Two of their future cornerstone players in Greg Oden and Brandon Roy each succumbed to career-turning injuries, after being touted as the highest of prospects. And most recently, LaMarcus Aldridge – after promising to stay with the Blazers for life – turned his heels on Rip City, ending an era and triggering a franchise-wide rebuild.
Nevertheless, one moment rises above all the poor luck the Blazers have endured since the turn of the century. When Damian Lillard hit “The Shot,” on the 2nd of May, 2014, shockwaves echoed across not only the city of Portland but the country.
In the 2013-14 season, the Blazers boasted one of the best starting 5’s in the league. The likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez shared the floor with Lillard, and they entered the playoffs on as the 5th seed, after ending the regular season on a blistering 9-1 run. A 54-28 record was not enough to obtain a higher seed, what with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder snagging the western conference top spots. However, Portland went into the post-season with every intention of sticking around for as long as possible.
Their first round matchup happened to be with another 54-28 team; the Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Dwight Howard. After losing the season series 1-3 to Houston, and giving up homecourt advantage to them as well, experts were hesitant to give the Blazers too much of a chance heading into the series.
Moreover, while the teams’ starting lineups were similar in strength, Houston’s bench – led by Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – had a major advantage over Portland’s relatively weak group of reserves. It became obvious that for the Blazers to match up in terms of ability, their stars would have to step up in a big way.
Luckily enough, Aldridge and Lillard had this in mind, as they dominated the series from start to finish. Aldridge, in particular, set the tone for the series with dominating stat lines of 46 points, 18 rebounds (54.8 FG%) and 43 points, 8 rebounds (64.3 FG%) in the first pair of games. Damian Lillard, on the other hand, showed up to prove his mettle at the business end of the series.
After an extremely tightly contested Game 1, which the Blazers won in overtime, the two teams split the next 4 games, with an average point differential of under 5 points a game. This cut-throat, no-room-for-error basketball culminated in a 3-2 lead for Portland, where their next game would be at home. To avoid the notoriously challenging task of winning a Game 7 on the road, the Blazers found themselves in a must-win scenario.
The first 3 quarters of Game 6 were as tightly contested as anyone would have expected. They ended with scores of 28-29, 56-58, and 78-79 respectively. However, mistakes on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter led to many loose balls, sloppy plays, and erroneous basketball.
It was through the virtue of one of these such loose balls that enabled Chandler Parsons to tuck home a seemingly game-sealing layup with only 0.9 seconds left on the clock. It gave the Rockets a 98-96 lead and even left LaMarcus Aldridge shaking his head with a wry, helpless, smile. At this point, the entire arena had been dealt a blow to the stomach. Little did anyone know that there was one man who had the power to turn the tables and prevent a Game 7.
Running off screens from Mo Williams and Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard called for the ball from the inbounding Nicolas Batum with a vociferous series of claps. Upon receiving it, the semi open point guard turned around and threw up a perfectly timed three-pointer. Momentarily, the entire arena held its breath as the ball arced its way down towards the rim. The second it nestled in the back of the net, though, the entire arena exploded. Lillard had just hit a shot to send the Blazers to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Lillard’s three-pointer was so much more than just a buzzer beater. In fact, it was more than just a fairytale end to what had been a hard-nosed, toughly fought series. It was relief for a franchise that had doused itself in mediocrity for the larger part of two decades. It resembled belief that better things were to come to Rip City in the future and that fans had something to look forward to.
Although the Blazers were eventually put to bed in 5 games by the almighty Spurs in the very next series, their legacy from the 2014 Playoffs remains strong to this date.
Damian Lillard’s shot is undoubtedly the greatest moment of the 21st century for the Portland Trail Blazers.
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