Damian Lillard’s Game 5 against the Nuggets is being massively slept on in NBA lore
Damian Lillard has had many historic games in his career. He’s well known for his iconic playoff clinching shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who the Blazers defeated in five games in 2019. There’s also his crushing series-ender against the Houston Rockets back in 2014. However, as impressive as those game-winners were, the same energy must be given to Lillard’s Game 5 performance versus the Nuggets in this year’s playoffs.
Although the Blazers bowed down to the Nuggets in six games, Damian Lillard had one of his best playoff series in his career. His Game 5 where he put up 55 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three blocks and one steal was one of the best not just of his career, but in NBA history. Lillard made 12 threes in this game, making him the only player to score this many three point shots in a playoff game.
Sadly, Lillard’s Blazers lost this game in two overtimes hence why it hasn’t gotten much hype. True enough, it’s easier to remember a player’s historic performance when they lead their team to victory. Michael Jordan’s 63-point performance against the Boston Celtics in game two of the 1986 Eastern Conference quarterfinals might be the only exception. But nearly every losing effort gets lost in time. Do you even LeBron James’ 50/8/8 game versus the Golden State Warriors in 2018?
Aside from the remarkable statline, Lillard also shot 70.8 percent from the field, 70.6 from the three point area and 90 percent from the free throw line per NBA.com. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Lillard had the greatest game score statistics in playoff history with a 55.90 game score. The way Lillard tried to will his team to victory was even more impressive.
Those stats above were not just to fill the stat sheet. Lillard had two game-tying threes at the end of the fourth quarter and the end of the first overtime to keep his Blazers in the game. He also had 17 of the blazers’ 19 points in overtime. This alone should indicate how legendary of a performance this was by Lillard.
Despite the result, Lillard’s performance is in good company alongside Jordan and James—two of the best basketball players to ever play the game. It sadly didn’t get the hype it deserved for a ton of reasons.
On the same day Damian Lillard had his legendary game, the Lakers (arguably the most popular team in the league) and Suns Game 5 happened at the same time. It was the same game that James walked out of with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, which dominated the headlines in the morning for the talking heads. It’s fair to argue that James’ walking out of the game was even a hotter topic compared to Lilard’s historic night. That’s sadly just how the media works these days.
The attention on the Lakers will always somehow be more compared to other teams. After Game 5, the Lakers were in the same situation as the Blazers—just one loss away from elimination. But unlike the Blazers, the Lakers were defending their title and were the favorites at the start of the regular season. The weight of their loss was a little more gradual because after all, the Lakers ruled the headlines all year.
Another reason why perhaps Lillard’s Game 5 performance was perhaps underappreciated was maybe because he went up against league MVP Nikola Jokic. Jokic had himself a night as well, putting up 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. It’s not Jokic’ fault that Lillard’s night was underappreciated but remember that the winner always gets the praise at the end of the day.
Putting Lillard’s remarkable performance aside, the Blazers’ role players received a ton of criticism after the game as well. One player in particular who got a ton of flak was CJ McCollum, who was expected to step up and support Lillard.
With just 11 seconds left in the second overtime, CJ stepped out of bounce and ruined the Blazers’ chance to tie the game. While it’s unfair to blame one player entirely for a loss in a basketball game, CJ’s accidental mistake cost the Blazers this game and maybe even the series.
Speaking of the Blazers’ role players, nobody aside from Lillard had more than 20 points in Game 5. And to think the Blazers only lost by seven in two overtimes just speaks to how crazy good of a performance this was by Dame. Ultimately, Lillard gave his all but it’s fair to criticize the support around him because if 55 points can’t beat an injured Nuggets team, then changes have to be made.
Knowing how the NBA has transpired over the past decade, this game could have a ton of consequences moving forward. Although, Damian Lillard has downplayed several trade rumors circulating around his name this off season, there could be a chance where Dame will no longer be a Blazer. Of course, this is all theoretical but this movie has happened before and it won’t be a shocker if Dame takes the lead role this time around. All because of one game. Oh, how the NBA works.