- A historic performance has Portland inches from another postseason match up with Golden State.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Damian Lillard brought the Blazers to the brink of the playoffs with the biggest scoring explosion in franchise history.
The two-time All-Star point guard scored a career-high 59 points in Portland’s 101-86 home victory over Utah on Saturday, eclipsing Damon Stoudamire’s previous franchise record of 54 points, set on Jan. 14, 2005, against the New Orleans Hornets. Lillard’s previous career-high of 51 points came on Feb. 19, 2016, against the Warriors.
“I realized what time it was for our team,” Lillard said during a post-game interview on the court. “We just needed two more wins [to seal a playoffs spot], and we worked too hard and came too far. … It felt great. We needed the win.”
Lillard finished 18-34 from the field, 9-for-14 from deep and 14-16 from the free-throw line in 41 minutes to go along with six rebounds and five assists. His two missed free throws came in the game’s final minutes, denying him an opportunity to crack the 60-point mark.
Lillard’s 59 points marked the NBA’s third-highest scoring total of the season, trailing only Phoenix’s Devin Booker (70 vs. the Celtics) and Golden State’s Klay Thompson (60). He became the 10th different player to top 50 points in a game this season, extending a new NBA record, joining Booker, Thompson, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins, Houston’s James Harden, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Washington’s John Wall.
“I knew coming into the game that I was going to attack them knowing how important this game was,” Lillard said. “I decided early that I’m going to come out here and impose my will on them and see how it goes. I saw the ball go in and I was able to get rolling in the first quarter. … I stayed on the gas the whole time, and that’s what I felt like needed to happen to make sure that we won this game.”
The Blazers entered Saturday with a one-game lead over the Nuggets for the West’s No. 8 seed and a first-round match-up with the top-seeded Warriors. Given the stakes, Portland coach Terry Stotts extended Lillard’s minutes early in the fourth quarter.
“Damian was phenomenal,” Stotts said. “He was having a night and we needed a win.”
Lillard’s big night got a boost thanks to the Jazz’s backcourt injury issues. Utah was without starting point guard George Hill due to a groin injury and back-up Raul Neto was lost to a bad ankle sprain in the second half.
“A lot of the questions I was asked before the game were something to do with how we guarded him well last time," said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, whose team held Lillard to 16 points on 5-20 shooting on Tuesday. "That just shows you what he's capable of doing. We tried to do a number of different things against him, tried to trap him in the pick-and-roll but he just scored in so many different ways. On an individual level, we weren't able to guard him."
With the win, Portland (40-40) needs only to beat either San Antonio on Monday or New Orleans on Wednesday to seal its fourth straight playoff trip and eliminate Denver (38-41). One Nuggets loss would also end the playoff chase because the Blazers hold a tie-breaker between the two teams. If the Blazers advance, they will face the Warriors for the second straight postseason. Stephen Curry’s 40-point effort in his Game 4 return from a sprained knee carried Golden State to a five-game series win over Portland in the 2016 Western Conference semifinals.
Lillard is now the only player in Blazers history with three 50-point games, and he now holds the Moda Center’s scoring record. He also tied a franchise-record by scoring 26 points in the first quarter.
The only player to score more points than Lillard against the Jazz during the Utah era is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who poured in 60 points during the final game of his career last April.