It’s not often we see a player put on a classic individual performance that ends up in a heartbreaking defeat. Unfortunately for Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, it’s happening regularly. Inspired by Dame Time, it’s time to look at the best NBA Playoffs performances in a loss.
For Damian Lillard, that’s exactly what happened yet again during the 2021 NBA Playoffs in Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets. Lillard’s 55-point masterpiece went to waste after the Nuggets managed to pull out the 147-140 double-overtime win despite Dame Time going full throttle throughout the fourth quarter and overtime periods.
In light of Lillard’s virtuoso in Game 5, let’s take a stroll down history lane to look at some of the best NBA Playoffs performances in a loss.
Damian Lillard – 2021 West 1st Round: Game 5 vs. Denver Nuggets
It’s hard to put into words just what Damian Lillard did against the Nuggets. Watching him enter that zone very few have been to even left Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant speechless.
I had like 4 tweets I wanted to write to describe this MASTERPIECE by Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard Sr, but I am seriously at a loss for words…
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) June 2, 2021
Lillard’s 55-piece consisted of a 17-of-24 shooting night and an insane 12 3-pointers, which set the record for the most 3-pointers ever in an NBA playoff game.
Dame Time was virtually unstoppable down the stretch as he made big three after big three that helped the Blazers force the two extra sessions. Lillard made the game-tying triple in regulation over Michael Porter Jr. In overtime, he led a late-game Blazers comeback after they went down by nine with just over two minutes remaining. The Nuggets were absolutely helpless as they watched Lillard splash in three 3-pointers in the final minute of overtime no. 1 to force the second OT.
Unfortunately, his heroics were just not enough to give Portland the win in double-overtime and the Blazers fell to a 3-2 series deficit. Nonetheless, Damian Lillard and the Blazers will have a chance to tie the series at home in Game 6 and force another decider against the Nuggets in Game 7.
Ray Allen – 2009 East 1st Round: Game 6 vs. Chicago Bulls
The Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls 1st round series in the 2009 NBA playoffs went down as one of the most memorable series in recent memory. In Game 6 of that bloodbath, Celtics star Ray Allen poured in 51 points and knocked down a then-NBA record 9 3-pointers in the triple-overtime classic that wound up in a 128-127 loss for Boston.
Allen knocked down a couple of big shots in the 2nd overtime that forced an unprecedented 3rd extra period. The first came in the form of a tough corner pocket jumper over the outstretched arms of Bulls big man Joakim Noah that trimmed Chicago’s lead to one. The next was a game-tying triple over Kirk Hinrich that sent the Chicago crowd into despair. Boston failed to close out Chicago despite Allen’s masterful performance. Nonetheless, the Celtics were able to close the deal in Game 7 at home.
Michael Jordan – 1986 East 1st Round: Game 2 vs. Boston Celtics
A lot of basketball historians would point to this game as Michael Jordan’s coming out party in the NBA. A 23-year old Michael Jordan put the world on notice after he dropped 63 points in a Game 2 loss to the 67-15 Boston Celtics that went on to win the title that season. Jordan’s 63 still stands today as the single-game scoring record in NBA playoff history.
What made Air Jordan’s performance even more amazing is that he just came off a foot injury that forced him to play just 18 games in the regular season. The Bulls entered as the no. 8 seed with just 30 wins and faced a juggernaut Celtics squad that posted its best record in franchise history.
Still, nothing could stop the budding Bulls superstar on that particular evening. After being a witness to MJ’s greatness, Celtics legend Larry Bird described the performance as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
Isiah Thomas – 1988 NBA Finals: Game 6 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
In Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, Isiah Thomas put on one of the most heroic performances of his career. The Pistons entered the contest with a 3-2 series lead. Unfortunately, Thomas rolled his right ankle during the third quarter, where he had already poured in 14 points at the time. With a chance to win his first ever NBA championship, Thomas still opted to play through the injury despite being in so much pain.
Bad ankle and all, Thomas scored 11 of Detroit’s final 15 points in the period. Thomas ended up with 43 points and eight assists, but his efforts were not enough to close out the deal, losing by just 1 point in Game 6.
That was definitely one of the most valiant efforts from a superstar in NBA Finals history. Thomas and the Pistons ended up losing the Finals in Game 7. Nonetheless, they’re time did come when they won back to back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.
LeBron James – 2018 NBA Finals: Game 1 vs. Golden State Warriors
LeBron James had arguably the greatest individual Finals performance in NBA history, considering the kind of one-man show he put up against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Finals. The King almost single-handedly carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 1 upset victory against Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the incredibly loaded 2018 Dubs squad. James poured in 51 points on 19-of-32 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists.
Unfortunately, J.R. Smith’s infamous blunder in the closing seconds of regulation turned James’ greatest individual performance ever to his most famous meme. Golden State ended up winning by 10 in overtime. Letting Game 1 slip away in the fashion that they did certainly deflated Cleveland the rest of the way as they wound up getting swept by the Dubs.
Anyway, between Damian Lillard and all these other stars, who is your vote for best NBA Playoffs performances in a loss?