Dame Time took over primetime Sunday night.
After wowing Rip City for nine seasons with playoff buzzer-beaters, remarkable individual scoring runs and too many clutch performances to count, Damian Lillard found another stage — one of the NBA’s biggest — to unpeel another layer of his star power.
Lillard scored 32 points, including the game-clinching three-pointer, to catapult Team LeBron to a convincing 170-150 victory over Team Durant in the NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. It was the most points a Portland Trail Blazers player has scored in the annual exhibition showcase, and Lillard delivered them in jaw-dropping fashion, mixing alley-oop dunks with halfcourt three-point bombs while scoring his team’s final 11 points.
Playing during a pandemic in a busy and condensed one-day event that also included the 3-Point Contest, Slam Dunk Contest and Skills Challenge, Lillard somehow managed to grab an oversized share of the spotlight.
“It feels kind of crazy,” Lillard said. “I couldn’t even dream up some of the things that have happened in my career.”
Lillard, who just missed out on a starting spot in the game because of a tiebreaker, came off the bench to play 21 minutes Sunday, making 11 of 20 shots, including 8 of 16 three-pointers. But it was how the points came that turned heads.
During a pregame huddle on the sideline, Lillard said, he and teammates Stephen Curry and Chris Paul made a pact: They would all try to finish an alley-oop dunk and sink a halfcourt shot before the night was over. Lillard kept up his end of the bargain in the first half, flushing a lob from Paul with 1:19 left in the second quarter and nailing a deep bomb roughly one minute later.
It was merely a tease.
Lillard went on to make three three-pointers from near halfcourt, including the game-winner, making one wonder if Logo Lillard will soon be modified to Halfcourt Lillard. He had threatened before the season to add the halfcourt three to his arsenal, but had yet to try it in a game. An exhibition contest against the game’s best players, it turns out, was just the place to dust it off.
“I wanted to test it out in some live action,” Lillard said. “It felt decent, it felt fine, like a normal jumper. I was able to shoot it pretty easy.”
Lillard, a noted long-range marksman who has extended his range to the logo in recent years, said he has been sheepish about attempting a halfcourt three during a game “out of respect” for his teammates. Why jeopardize a defensive stand with a haphazard low-percentage shot?
But it’s something Lillard practices regularly and he trusts his accuracy, even from such distances. So now that’s he’s found success in an exhibition game, don’t be surprised to see it in a real one.
“I think I’m going to,” he said. “If I get it going, I’m definitely going to do it.”
At the very least, he’s earned the approval of a former critic. Paul George, whom Lillard famously bludgeoned with a 37-foot buzzer-beater to clinch a first-round playoff series in 2018, said he now regrets calling it a “bad shot” afterward.
On Sunday, in a postgame Zoom interview, George told reporters that Lillard (and Curry) had developed “crazy” range and are making deep threes with such ease and accuracy, those shots are now “well in their range.”
“It’s a great shot,” George said, chuckling. “Thumbs up.”
But while Lillard’s deep bombs drew plenty of buzz Sunday, it was his late-game scoring flurry that delivered Team LeBron a win. For the second consecutive season, the rules of the All-Star Game dictated that the game ends only when a team reaches 170 points. Lillard pushed Team LeBron to the threshold by scoring its final 11 points, completing a driving layup before swishing three consecutive three-pointers to end the game.
The last one came from — where else? — halfcourt, as Lillard dribbled up the left side, took one step across the halfcourt line and launched the clincher. As the play unfolded, Curry lingered back on the other end and prematurely waved goodbye to the 2,500 fans in attendance, effectively calling Lillard’s walk-off shot.
After the dagger dropped through the net, Lillard raised his arms and tapped his wrist, bringing Dame Time to primetime.
Perhaps the only thing that eluded Lillard Sunday was the All-Star Game MVP trophy. That went to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished a perfect 16 for 16 from the field and scored a game-high 35 points.
Curry added 28 points, thanks to eight three-pointers, and he, too, delivered on the point guard pact to finish an alley-oop and hit a half court three. Paul, who dazzled with 16 assists, made his dunk but never got a chance to attempt a shot from half court. It’s about the only thing that didn’t go right for Team LeBron.
“It was fun,” Lillard said. “It’s exciting just to run around out there with a guy like (Curry). That’s what makes All-Star Weekend, All-Star Weekend.”