Trail Blazers vs Pelicans Sunday, 12/16/12 AT 06:00PM

Game-Winning Lillard Three Saves Trail Blazers

12/17/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Damian Lillard's three-pointer with .3 seconds left put the Trail Blazers (11-12) over the top in their win against the New Orleans Hornets (5-18). Lillard had a fairly quiet game (16 points, four assists) but came up in the clutch when the Trail Blazers needed him most. The Hornets got a lay-up at the end of regulation and the final score was 95-94.

    JJ Hickson made his impact on the game in a big way from the opening tip. He finished with a double-double of 24 points and 16 rebounds.  Hickson's activity helped  the Trail Blazers sustain energy that it seemed just about everyone in the building was lacking.

    "He(Hickson) was probably the best player on the floor a lot of the time he was out there," Lillard said.

    Wesley Matthews started the game but left after three minutes of action. Matthews felt some contact on a screen on on his injured hip and he said it "hindered" him on the next play.

    "It's not a set back," Matthews said, "it's just not there yet." Matthews thought it was best to see where he was at physically in a game situation.

    The Trail Blazers held an 11-point lead at halftime. The Hornets had 11 turnovers in the first half and were staying in the game with the three pointer, as they shot 60 percent in the first half from beyond the arc. Ryan Anderson was the catalyst for the Hornets all night as it seemed that he could not miss. Anderson was seven of 10 on his three-pointers and finished the night with 26 points. Anthony Davis came off the bench for the Hornets afnd finished with 15 points and five rebounds.

    The third quarter seemed to be a continuation of Trail Blazer dominance. They had a led as big as 16. The Trail Blazers collectively moved the ball around well in what Stotts called their best passing game of the season. Batum had another career-high game in assists with 10. Batum (11 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, five blocks and five steals) is the first Trail Blazer to ever have at least 10 assists, five steals and five blocks in a game and the first NBA player to have such a line in over 11 years (Jamaal Tinsley November 2001).

    "I told him (Batum) after the game--one of my hopes for him is to expand his role as a facilitator, as a playmaker, not just as a scorer and not just as a catch and shoot guy," Stotts said. " I think he relishes that versatility."

    However, the Hornets began clawing their way back as the third quarter closed. Anderson and Greivis Vasquez (23 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds) helped them claw their way back from a 16-point deficit.

    Portland's offense was stagnant. The players began standing around waiting for plays to happen and the ball movement of only a few minutes earlier seemed hours in the past. Austin Rivers hit a game-tying three with 50 seconds left. Then, it seemed like disaster had struck when LaMarcus Aldridge rolled his left ankle with 25 second left. Portland, needing to get a stop substituted their defensive stalwart Jared Jeffries in place of the injured Aldridge, who would not return. X-rays on Aldridge were negative and he says he will get an MRI on the ankle either tonight or tomorrow.

    Portland got the stop they needed and got the ball back with 11 seconds to try and win the game.

    The Trail Blazers got the ball to Lillard at the top of the key. With a foul to give, Vasquez wrapped up Lillard with four second left, Lillard, sensing the foul was coming tried to get a shot off to draw a shooting foul. It was to no avail. The Trail Blazers had to do it again. They ran the same play that got Nicolas Batum his game-winning three against Cleveland with Lillard passing the ball in. Batum wasn't open so Lillard gave the ball to Babbitt (who Lillard credited with coming to the ball), who then handed the ball off back to Lillard and also set a screen on Vasquez to create separation for the final shot.

    "When I let it go and I got it over the top of his hands. And then I was looking and I thought, 'that look good,'" Lillard said on the feeling when the ball left his hands.

    When asked by a reporter how Lillard's final shot looked from his viewpoint, Stotts was all smiles.

    "Same as yours--it looked good."

    "It would have been certainly disappointing to lose because I thought we played a good game. From  start to finish, we were pretty much in control of the game," Stotts said.

    Portland lost Aldridge, Matthews and Sasha Pavlovic all at different times throughout the game to injury. They had lost games like this where they had a lead earlier this year, like the first game at home against San Antonio. However, tonight they had the help of a clutch shot in a tough situation to get them through. Lillard had these opportunities before but many times he hadn't delivered just yet. Some words from assistant coach David Vanterpool, the coach he works closest with, right before the final shot may have made the difference.

    "Coach Vanterpool, Dave, we talked. We just both said I'm due for one. I had a couple of chances to hit a game winner and I hadn't made any so he said 'just believe in yourself," and I did," Lillard said.

    On a night when everyone either in the Rose Garden, Media Row and even those enjoying a free NBA League Pass preview in other cities saw that Portland's rookie guard is a rookie without peer. We reporters ask him, prompt him and try to get him to say that when he does something there is a deeper meaning behind it. He stays collected, calm and is excited for the moment but also knows that the NBA season endures. Even though Lillard may have just dotted the "I's" and crossed the "T's" on what was probably his most memorable week as a professional, he's just glad the shot means a win and that a win means no practice tomorrow.

    "No practice tomorrow, that was a lot of motivation right there," Lillard said jokingly.

    Lillard flashed a smile here and there after the game, which is good, considering the amount of smiles he brought tonight to Rip City.

    Listen to Wheels' call of Lillard's game-winner and Lillard's post-game interview.

    The Trail Blazers have the next day off and they will take on the Denver Nuggets on Thursday at the Rose Garden. That game will be at 7:30 and will be shown on TNT. It can also be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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