Damian Lillard is carrying the Portland Trail Blazers in their playoff hunt.
The reason for that is the Blazers picked up a crucial win against the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday thanks to Lillard’s incredible performance. Dame — who missed two critical free throws late in that Clippers loss — took the criticism (and subsequent trash talk from George and Patrick Beverley) to heart, responding with 51 points in a statement win and carrying Portland to victory over Philly.
In the 124-121 win, Lillard shot 16-for-28 from the field, 15-for-16 from the foul line, chipped in seven assists and scored 18 of his game-high 51 points in the fourth quarter to pull Rip City within 0.5 games of the 8-seed in the Western Conference.
Damian Lillard is a man on a mission for the Trail Blazers
While the Blazers as a team haven’t looked impressive, losing to a shorthanded Clippers squad before nearly falling to a Sixers team missing Ben Simmons and losing Joel Embiid to an ankle injury early in the game, Lillard has been an absolute fire starter.
The five-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has been playing at an MVP level, averaging 33.0 points, 9.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game on .474/.386/.849 shooting splits in the bubble.
He’s gotten some help with the return of Jusuf Nurkic, Carmelo Anthony cementing his place among the NBA’s all-time great scorers and Gary Trent Jr. playing like an under-the-radar breakout sniper in the bubble, but it’s been Lillard leading the Blazers to a 4-2 record through the first six seeding games, nearly guaranteeing they will get a shot at a playoff spot with a play-in scenario.
Whether that comes as the 8-seed or the ninth-place team remains to be seen, and there’s still work to be done with games against the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets looming, but thanks to Damian Lillard’s heroics, Portland has a real shot at pulling this off.