Making his season-long struggles seem almost impossible to fathom, Damian Lillard reached his peak form on Friday night, spearheading the Portland Trail Blazers’ 125-116 win over the Charlotte Hornets at Moda Center with an utterly dominant offensively performance.
Lillard dropped a season-high 43 points on the Hornets, scoring however he wanted en route to one of the most efficient nights of his career. He shot 12-of-19 overall, 6-of-11 from three and 13-of-14 from the free-throw line, good for a blistering 85.5 true shooting percentage—just the fifth time Lillard’s ever reached that threshold while scoring so many points, per research at Stathead Basketball.
After the game, Chauncey Billups revealed the key behind his best player’s long-awaited breakout performance.
“I feel like he’s moving so much better,” Billups said of Lillard. “A big part of his game is being able to create some space to get to his step-back or get to his shots, because Dame is not like a 6’6” point guard. When you can shoot it that well, you have to be able to create space And I feel like lately, since he’s been back, he’s been able to do that. And that was the biggest that he couldn’t do before that. That’s so important for his game.”
The eye test confirms that assessment.
Lillard was an absolute terror off the bounce on Friday, abusing every defender the Hornets threw at him. He got to the paint at will with slick right-left crossovers and filthy hesitations, creating all the space he needed to get off clean looks when it came time to stop on a dime or step back for jumpers.
Matched up one-on-one with Cody Martin at the top of the floor in the third quarter, Lillard roasted Charlotte’s ace defender before rising for a thunderous jam—his first official dunk of the season, per NBA.com/stats.
Every time Dame dunks, an angel gets its wings pic.twitter.com/rwfaVkPnnk
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 18, 2021
Lillard, remember, is still dealing with the abdominal tendinopathy that caused him to miss the first two weeks of December. He even came up grimacing early in the third quarter after hitting a pull-up 20-footer, eliciting fears his outstanding performance could be cut short.
But Lillard admitted earlier this season that his injury would be a factor all season, and insisted after returning in Portland’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday that he “felt significantly better” than he did before taking time to rest and rehab.
Lillard’s as close to healthy as he’ll get this season, probably, and played like it against the Hornets. Here’s hoping his body cooperates enough going forward for Lillard to build off the momentum he created on Friday, lifting the 12-18 Blazers right up the Western Conference standings along with him.