Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard made headlines earlier this season when discussing championships on The Posted Up Podcast with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes.
On the heels of his exhilarating game-winner Tuesday night, Lillard’s statement is fascinating context, so we’ll show you the full quote:
“Six, seven years of fighting, trying to get over the hump — even though it’s hard, I don’t want to take my position for granted. I think it could be worse. I could be in worse situations where I’m not valued the way I am, where I’m not in the position to have the type of individual success that I’ve had, and also, each year as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the other stuff. Obviously we all play to win a championship, I compete to win a championship. But I’ve learned it’s about so many other things: the relationships, the impact that you have on other people and their lives and the impact that you can have on their careers.
“I know in my heart I want to win a championship, but it’s more important to me to know, me and Chief — we really friends, me and CJ — we really friends. I could say, ‘Alright, I don’t want to be here, I want to go do this because I want to win,’ and I could ruin stuff for other people… When my career is over, I’m going to know the relationships I’m going to have, I’m going to know the people who knew I was solid with them, regardless of if I was at the top or if I controlled all this stuff.”
On Tuesday night, Portland’s beloved Lillard got that much closer to his first NBA championship by draining a 37-foot dagger to send the Thunder packing in the first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs.
He finished with 50 points in the 118-115 win, playing 45 minutes to seal Portland’s 4-1 series victory. But this wasn’t just any shot; this was another step in Lillard’s growing legacy in Rip City.
Rewind to Lillard’s second season in the Association, when the reigning Rookie of the Year played the full 82 games and saw his 3-point percentage increase to 39.4 percent.
His Trail Blazers were red-hot heading into the playoffs against the Rockets, but Portland needed a buzzer-beater to close out the series at home.
Their second-year point guard from Weber State obliged by delivering a shot eerily reminiscent to Tuesday’s Twitter-trending bucket.
“When it left my hands, it felt good,” Lillard told reporters last night when recapping his latest dagger.
Take a look and compare the two game-winners for yourself.
This stunning display from Lillard might have caught casual NBA viewers by surprise, but Portland fans are accustomed to plays like this from their four-time All-Star, who racked up 45 minutes of playing time during the Blazers’ furious rally.
“I didn’t even know I was gonna play that many minutes, it was just on the fly,” said Lillard. “He [Portland Head Coach Terry Stotts] just decided to do it randomly, and I was prepared for it because of the way I approach my stuff in the summer.
“The last 5 or 6 minutes of the game, I just kept telling myself like, for us to get this game we were going to really have to dig,” Lillard told reporters minutes after the thunderous three-pointer eliminated OKC from the postseason.
That shot — destined to live in Portland’s postseason lore forever — demonstrated exactly what the Trail Blazers have come to expect from Lillard, who has more postseason appearances than Kevin Durant during the last five years.
Lillard’s been a model of consistency in a loaded Western Conference, earning his reputation as a perennially underrated star. Even with questions surrounding his defensive abilities and efficiency relative to the NBA’s other top guards, he’s responded by producing quality results year in and year out.
“The leadership [from Lillard] doesn’t surprise me, because you know his personality and you know where he comes from and you know what he did in college,” Stotts told NBA.com in 2016.
Those traits, along with Lillard’s focus on creating a meaningful relationship with not only his teammates but the city of Portland and his fans, are why he’s emerged as one of the easiest players to root for in the Association — especially in a year where LeBron James watches the playoffs from his couch and the seemingly invincible Warriors are the favorites for another championship.
And while it’s not guaranteed that Lillard will ever win a title, last night’s jaw-dropping finish kept the dream alive in Portland for at least another round.