Dame Time Gets Another Chapter in Damian Lillard's Growing Legend

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 14, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, left, works the floor against Brooklyn Nets' Caris LeVert during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

The world moves faster than ever, and our attention spans are all shot. But we're going to remember what Damian Lillard just did.

Forget what you thought you knew about Dame Time. It's not a stretch of clutch minutes. It's not a series of contested 30-foot heaves that send opponents packing in fourth quarters. Not anymore. Not after Lillard's two-week bubble takeover, which concluded on Thursday night with a 134-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets that secured the Portland Trail Blazers the No. 8 spot in the West's play-in round against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Lillard owned every second of the seeding round, authoring a story that, when we look back at a strange and eventful 2019-20 season, will be the very first thing that comes to mind.

We'll remember this as the year Dame Time lasted weeks.

In Thursday's win, Lillard faced constant traps, sometimes before he even crossed half court, and still finished with 42 points and 12 assists. He hit 13 of his 22 shots from the field, including 8-of-14 from three-point range, despite the Nets' entire defense being designed to prevent him from getting off long-range looks.

Brooklyn, like most of the foes Lillard faced in the bubble, did not come prepared to defend the types of shots he was willing to take.

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Dame concluded the seeding round with averages of 37.6 points and 9.6 assists in 41.7 minutes per game. He nailed 43.6 percent of his three-point tries and carried Portland to a 6-2 mark. His final three games, all of which the Blazers had to win, were statistically obscene.

But the numbers aren't why this stretch will go down as the defining one of the season. It's not why the 30-year-old's legend has now grown to folk-hero levels.

Instead, this run won't soon be forgotten because of the way he cemented himself as the NBA's best leader—start to finish, on and off the floor, in word and deed.

Lillard kicked off the Orlando endeavor by imploring his teammates not to waste their time, an inspiring rallying cry for the rest of the roster but also a declaration that he certainly didn't intend to squander his.

As Portland played close game after close game (only one of its eight bubble contests featured a final margin of more than eight points), he was always there to put his team over the top.

The run was imperfect, marred conspicuously by Lillard's two missed free throws down the stretch of a 122-117 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Aug. 8. Patrick Beverley and Paul George piled on, but Dame responded by pasting 51 points on the Philadelphia 76ers the very next night. After that, he hung 61 points on the Dallas Mavericks (and went 18-of-18 from the foul line, thank you very much) in a three-point win.

One of the shots he hit to secure that Dallas victory made it seem like Dame and the Blazers were fated to succeed, as Carmelo Anthony opined.

But fate implies an absence of control, and Lillard was very much in charge of the whole operation. He scored or assisted on 30 of the 34 points Portland scored in the final 7:55 of that game. His stumble against the Clippers only added depth to the unfolding narrative. Those two missed freebies didn't faze him.

They were fuel.

And when Lillard was understandably out of gas against Brooklyn, he found fumes in the tank and hit the pedal one last time.

There he was, a wholly spent superstar diving on the floor for a midcourt, game-altering clutch steal. The threes and complete offensive composure were great and mostly expected, but that? That was basketball heroism.

In the end, Thursday saw Lillard dispatch three teams at once. He beat the Nets, sent the Phoenix Suns and their 8-0 bubble mark home and all but assured the inexperienced and injury-ravaged Grizzlies of a similar fate. Memphis has had a terrific year, but in light of all Dame has done since the season resumed, there's little hope the upstart Grizz can take him down twice, especially with Jaren Jackson Jr. out for the season with a torn meniscus. 

It'd be hasty to spend too much time thinking about Portland's likely first-round meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers, though we can all agree if it happens, it won't be a typical 1 vs. 8 walkover. 

Not with Lillard turning Dame Time into an all-day, every-day phenomenon.

       

Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through games played Thursday, Aug. 13.