By Brian Martin
Just when you thought this first round of the playoffs couldn't get any better, we get a moment like this.
A moment we haven't had in 17 years.
That's how long its been since the last time a buzzer-beating shot won a playoff series. Back in 1997, it was John Stockton that hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals.
On Friday night in Portland, Damian Lillard hit a shot that will be remembered for years to come.
Both came at the expense of the Houston Rockets.
With the Trail Blazers down by two points with 0.9 seconds remaining, Lillard was bunched on the right side of the floor as Nicolas Batum was handed the ball on the sideline for the inbounds pass. Lillard broke away from the cluster and sprinted toward Batum. Lillard clapped his hands three times, calling for the ball, wanting to seize this opportunity.
Batum made the pass, Lillard made the catch, then turned to square his shoulders to the basket and rose up for a 3-pointer as Chandler Parsons scrambled to try to contest it. But Parsons was too late. Lillard had a clean look and with a flick of the wrist the ball was out of his hands with 0.3 left on the clock. The horn sounded with the ball in flight toward the goal, with the Moda Center crowd waiting, waiting, waiting ... until the shot found nothing but net to send them into a frenzy.
Blazers win the game.
Blazers win the series.
Lillard becomes a legend.
In 0.9 seconds.
That game was just incredible. Can only come up with 4 series-ending buzzer beaters - MJ 89, Stockton 97, Sampson 86 and Lillard 14.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 3, 2014
The Blazers had not won a playoff series since 2000.
Until Lillard's shot.
The Blazers were 0.9 seconds away from facing a Game 7 on the road in Houston.
Until Lillard's shot.
Chandler Parsons, whose putback layup put the Rockets up by two with 0.9 seconds left, was set to be the hero.
Until Lillard's shot.
It was a stunning finish to a fantastic series.
But Lillard coming through in the clutch is far from stunning. That is something the second-year pro has been doing since he arrived in Portland to begin his NBA career.
That was Damian Lillard's 4th career game-winning shot in the final 5 seconds of a game. He's now 4-12 on go-ahead shots in final 5 sec.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
Here are the leaders in clutch scoring in this year's playoffs; clutch is defined as the final five minutes of regulation or overtime with the score (ahead or behind) within five points.
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||32||11-22||50.0%||2-9||22.2%||8-10||80.0%|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||31||9-19||47.4%||2-4||50.0%||11-11||100.0%|
|Dwight Howard (HOU)||30||5-12||41.7%||0-0||0.0%||20-27||74.1%|
|James Harden (HOU)||25||6-27||22.2%||1-10||10.0%||12-13||92.3%|
|Monta Ellis (DAL)||23||8-16||50.0%||1-4||25.0%||6-7||85.7%|
When we change the time parameter to the final minute, Lillard jumps to the front of the pack. And he is the only player in the top five in both groups.
|Damian Lillard (POR)||18||3-7||42.9%||2-3||66.7%||10-10||100.0%|
|DeMar DeRozan (TOR)||14||1-3||33.3%||0-1||0.0%||12-12||100.0%|
|Russell Westbrook (OKC)||10||3-10||30.0%||2-6||33.3%||2-4||50.0%|
|Reggie Jackson (OKC)||9||2-4||50.0%||1-2||50.0%||4-4||100.0%|
|Manu Ginobili (SAN)||9||2-2||100.0%||0-0||0.0%||5-6||83.3%|
|John Wall (WAS)||9||0-2||0.0%||0-1||0.0%||9-9||100.0%|
Let's change one more parameter to see who is best when their team is either trailing or tied in the final minute. Once again, Lillard at the top.
|Damian Lillard (POR)||11||3-7||42.9%||2-3||66.7%||3-3||100%|
|Russell Westbrook (OKC)||10||3-9||33.3%||2-6||33.3%||2-4||50.0%|
|Troy Daniels (HOU)||6||1-1||100.0%||1-1||100.0%||3-3||100%|
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||6||1-7||14.3%||1-6||16.7%||3-5||60.0%|
|5 players tied||5|
Of course, this is a small sample size as most teams in this year's playoffs have played only six games -- Miami (four games) and Washington (five games) secured their second round tickets earlier this week. So let's go back to the regular season and examine the same clutch scenarios as above.
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||167||50-132||37.9%||20-52||38.5%||47-57||82.5%|
|LeBron James (MIA)||157||46-95||48.4%||9-29||31.0%||56-66||84.8%|
|Kyrie Irving (CLE)||151||44-117||37.6%||11-31||35.5%||52-58||89.7%|
|Monta Ellis (DAL)||151||44-98||44.9%||12-22||54.5%||51-68||75.0%|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||148||43-91||47.3%||19-43||44.2%||43-50||86.0%|
|Kemba Walker (CHA)||72||14-41||34.1%||2-13||15.4%||42-54||77.8%|
|LeBron James (MIA)||64||11-28||39.3%||4-14||28.6%||3-44||86.4%|
|John Wall (WAS)||59||17-37||45.9%||2-8||25.0%||23-33||69.7%|
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||55||15-44||34.1%||7-21||33.3%||18-21||85.7%|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||55||11-28||39.3%||4-15||26.7%||29-35||82.9%|
|John Wall (WAS)||34||12-25||48.0%||2-7||28.6%||8-11||72.7%|
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||33||12-29||41.4%||6-16||37.5%||3-4||75.0%|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||32||10-23||43.5%||4-12||33.3%||8-9||88.9%|
|Stephen Curry (GSW)||32||11-29||37.9%||2-12||16.7%||8-8||100.0%|
|James Harden (HOU)||31||9-17||52.9%||4-8||50.0%||9-11||81.8%|
And finally, what about when your team is tied or trailing by three points or less (single-possession game) in the final 10 seconds.
|James Harden (HOU)||14||4-7||57.1%||2-4||50.0%||4-5||80.0%|
|Stephen Curry (GSW)||12||5-10||50.0%||0-3||0.0%||2-2||100.0%|
|Damian Lillard (POR)||12||5-11||45.5%||2-5||40.0%||0-0||0.0%|
|Jeff Teague (ATL)||11||4-7||57.1%||2-2||100.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Rudy Gay (SAC)||9||3-4||75.0%||1-1||100.0%||2-2||100.0%|
The name you see among the league leaders in all of these clutch scenarios is Damian Lillard.
Ahead or behind; last five minutes or last 10 seconds; Lillard comes through for the Blazers when they need him most.
And on Friday night, his clutch performance sent the Blazers to a destination they have not seen in 14 years: the Conference Semifinals.
"That's definitely the shot of my life. So far."