By Ben Golliver
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard turned to Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool in the closing seconds of a tied game against the Hornets on Sunday night, and the two men agreed that it was about time the early favorite for 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year hit a game-winner.
"We both said I was due for one," Lillard remembered. "I had had a couple of chances to hit game-winners and I hadn't made any. He said, 'Just believe in yourself,' and I did, and I made the shot."
Lillard hit a deep three over the outstretched arms of Hornets forward Ryan Anderson that provided the winning margin in Portland's 95-94 victory at the Rose Garden.
"When I let it go, I got it off over the top of his hands," he said. "Then I was looking, I was like, 'That looks good, that's going in.' It went in and we won the game."
With four seconds remaining and the game tied at 92, Lillard was tasked with inbounding the ball from the sidelined, and Blazers coach Terry Stotts dialed up the same play that resulted in a Nicolas Batum game-winning three that beat the Cavaliers in double overtime earlier this month. This time around,Batum couldn't get open, so Lillard went to Plan B, inbounding to Luke Babbitt and then receiving the ball back quickly on a hand off. Babbitt screened Lillard's defender, Greivis Vasquez, giving Lillard enough daylight to get off his shot.
"Luke did a really good job of using his body to get open and even when I came back inbounds," Lillard said. "He handed the ball back to me instantly, went into a screen and got Vasquez, giving me the chance to raise up over [Anderson] and I had a good look at the shot."
Video review of the shot indicated that 0.3 seconds remained in the game. The Hornets converted an alley-oop lay-up at the buzzer to provide the 95-94 winning score.
Known for his steady demeanor and even-keel, Lillard's personality seems like the prototype of a closer. This season has seen him miss deep threes and runners alike, though, and the Blazers also have Batum and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge as options. Here, Lillard said he wiped his mind clear, focusing on how the defense would play the inbounds exchange
"I don't think about the first couple that I missed," he explained to SI.com. "I don't think about it at all. When you're playing you're just caught up in the moment. [My mind] is pretty much blank. In my head I'm trying to figure out how the defense is going to play me. If there will be gaps or if I'll have to raise up and shoot a jumper. ... They had two guys up on the pick-and-roll that me and Luke got into late. They played it how I expected them to."
Lillard took the deep shot with confidence and said that earlier misses in game-winning situations this season weren't running through his mind, at least not after his moment in the huddle with Vanterpool. "Every time I go up to shoot those last shots, I feel like it's going on," he told SI.com. "Tonight just happened to be the first one to fall."