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In Win over Lakers, Damian Lillard Spreads Belief in New Brand of 'Hero Ball'

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJanuary 6, 2015

Sam Forenich/Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's not hero ball.

Damian Lillard wants to make that clear.

"Hero ball is when you try to make it about yourself," Lillard said. "Or you try to take it all upon yourself."

Lillard knows about and prides himself on leading the league in total fourth-quarter scoring, per NBA.com. He relishes taking and making clutch shots.

And the root of all that, he said, is pure will to win a team game.

Lillard believes he can tell when that isn't the case, when other players are chasing solo glory.

"I think that by the kind of emotions that they show, you can tell who's really doing it for the team and who's really feeling, like, 'All eyes on me,'" Lillard said. "You can tell by how they go about handling it. Honestly, I was just trying to win the game. I was scared there was a possibility we let this one slip."

Lillard was answering questions late Monday night about taking over a game because he'd just taken another one over.

He absolutely willed the Portland Trail Blazers—an increasingly common occurrence in Lillard's two-plus NBA seasons—to a 98-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lillard scored 16 points in the final five minutes and 12 seconds. Before Lillard went about that business, the Lakers led 83-76.

Lillard's teammates understood the magnitude of his shot-making.

"He rose to the occasion," said Wesley Matthews. "Took us over that hump."

"He's probably saved four or five games for us this season, probably more, as a one-man show," said Chris Kaman.

On Monday, The Lillard Show produced 39 points on 12-of-21 shooting with a team-high five assists and just one turnover.

Asked what changed in the fourth quarter besides Lillard getting hot, Jeremy Linthe Laker who tried in vain to stop the Portland point guardsaid, "That's the big part of it. And it kind of took the momentum."

What's fascinating is how a guy who gravitates so naturally to the spotlight sees how much more goes into the overall production.

Lillard doesn't want to be the "hero." He wants to help his teambottom line.

"When you try to make everything about yourself, that's hero ball," Lillard said. "Not when you just happen to be the guy to make a few shots and give energy and get the team going."

Kobe Bryant might not put it so humbly, but he has viewed that as his role all through his career. Bryant, 36, wasn't there Monday night. For the first time in his career, Bryant sat out the second game of a back-to-back set for precautionary rest and could only watch on TV from back home in Southern California.

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Lillard, 24, long ago earned Bryant's respect for his complete shot-making arsenal and fearlessness. But with Bryant absent, it was stark Monday night how only one side had that killer mentality pushing it.

There is mighty power in some well-timed, clutch shots, and if you're not afraid to fail at the tipping point, you can create a much-needed spark out of thin air.

"When it's needed, I'm definitely not going to shy away from it," Lillard said. "If I get a little more aggressive and shots don't go in or I'm not able to change the game, I'm willing to accept that. I can carry that weight. I can deal with not being successful in those situations.

"Tonight was another time that it just worked out."

Ho-hum. The 27-8 Blazers are now 6-2 this season when trailing after three quarters at home. When all else fails, there's #LillardTime.

Bryant's prime as a closer didn't come with hashtags to help the memories go viral. Lillard's dramatic series-ender to take out Dwight Howard, James Harden and Houston last spring became a Vine that is approaching 10 million loops.

Even before that dagger, Lillard proved he has a knack for big moments and timely dominance. There are so many special stretches still to come.

But for now, Lillard wants you to notice that it was co-star LaMarcus Aldridge who pointed out it was time they start to "take over the rest of the game" when the Lakers were looking comfortable. And it was Aldridge who drew a double-team on the block and "was a team player enough to kick it out to me" for Lillard's first points of the fourth quarter to start the roll.

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 04: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates a basket by LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Moda Center on November 4, 2014
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

"So it was more than just me," Lillard said.

And if he's going to be the poster boy for the next generation of clutch shooters, Lillard promises to take responsibility for his actions.

"If I feel like I've got a good look, and I'm comfortable and in a rhythm, I'm going to take the shot," he said. "If two guys come to me, I'm going to make the next pass."

No, that's not very good hero ball at all.

The only heroes in Lillard's eyes are guys trying to win for the right reasons.

Fortunately for Lillard, he's trying harder than the rest.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

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