Damian Lillard was really feeling it for the first time in weeks, and knew there was nothing the Brooklyn Nets could do to stop him. Already with 10 points and two triples in the Trail Blazers' decisive third quarter, he wanted to put more distance between his team and the Brooklyn Nets.
Lillard, coming middle, took a hand-off from Carmelo Anthony, then dribbled wide around another screen from Enes Kanter as Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan executed a half-hearted switch. Pointedly arcing out to the halfcourt logo, almost as if to test himself, Lillard squared his feet and shoulders before quickly letting fly. Bang.
Lillard got Jordan switched onto him during Portland's next trip, dancing with the ball and stepping back beyond the arc to leverage the threat of the long ball. Then he began his drive with a trademark left-to-right, between-the-legs hesitation dribble, causing Joe Harris to dig over one pass away – all the space Robert Covington needed for a deep three of his own.
The Blazers suddenly up 12 with the third-quarter clock winding below a minute remaining, Lillard tasted blood. Moseying up the floor with a casual dribble, he crossed halfcourt, noticing Tyler Johnson retreating to go below a coming screen from Kanter set some 35-feet from the rim.
One crossover pound dribble later, Logo Lillard broke the Nets' will for good with a comically deep triple – the signature, finishing touch of a 16-point third quarter that blew a close game wide open.
Asked after the game what went wrong for his team in a third quarter the Nets lost 35-24, Kyrie Irving answered succinctly.
"A guy named Damian Lillard," he said.
Steve Nash didn't equivocate much, either.
"It does make it difficult to cover someone when they are pulling up from the center circle," he said of Lillard.
There were many encouraging takeaways from Portland's third straight road win. Jusuf Nurkic continued his strong recent play with perhaps his most impactful game of the season. The Blazers' amped-up defensive intensity of late rarely waned, and they racked up 24 assists – not a huge total even for Portland, but indicative of its ball movement and pace in the halfcourt facing a switch-heavy defense like Brooklyn.
If there's one development in the Blazers' win that should spring most optimism going forward, though, it's undoubtedly Lillard's return to an MVP form that's eluded him for weeks. Just ask Irving and Nash.