PORTLAND – After 14 years, the wait is finally over.
Damian Lillard hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired to push the Trail Blazers past the Rockets 99-98 in Game 6 of the Western Conference playoffs.
“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said Lillard, who finished the game with 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 shooting from three. “Mo and Wes did a great job of trying to screen and I was able to break free and I got my feet squared up and it felt real good leaving my hands. Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers advance to the second round for the first time since 2000, ending the longest active Western Conference streak of playoff futility.
“I’ve been here so long, I definitely know this city has been waiting for this type of moment, this night, for a long time,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think they’re probably still cheering in their cars and at their houses. This city loves basketball and to give them this type of series and give them a shot like that to end it, they love it. They’ve been behind us the whole season. They believe in us.”
With less than a second to play, it looked as though the series was going to head back to Houston for a Game 7. And as exciting as the series has been, no Trail Blazer, let alone their fans, were interested in enduring a win-or-go-home Game 7 on the Rockets home court. But that looked like the direction the series was headed after the Rockets took a 98-96 lead off a Chandler Parsons putback with 0.9 seconds to play.
“I think I can speak for our entire team – when Chandler Parsons made that layup with 0.9 seconds, everybody was like ‘Man, we have to go back to Houston,’” said Lillard. “I told LA the first thin I did after he made it was look to the other end at the clock to see how much time was left. I knew we would get a shot off. I didn’t know what the quality would be of the shot, but we got as good of a look as we was going to get.”
Portland called a timeout to advance the ball, though the Rockets would call a timeout of their own after assessing Portland’s formation. It wouldn’t help though, as no amount of scouting, preparation and scheming was going to keep the Trail Blazers, a team that has shown themselves to be supremely confident in their ability to overcome any obstacle, no matter how formidable, during the court of the first-round series.
As soon as the officials blew the whistle to start play, Lillard charged hard from the other side of the court to collect the inbounds pass from Nicolas Batum. Despite Lillard’s reputation as one of the most clutch shooters in the NBA, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who was responsible for checking Lillard, was slow to pursue. Lillard came open while curling toward Batum, clapping his hands in an effort to get the point across that, even though Aldridge was the first option, he would was ready to take the shot.