PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers were less than a second away from a return trip to Houston.
Then Damian Lillard got the ball.
Lillard knocked down a 3-pointer as time expired Friday, sending the Blazers to a 99-98 win over the Houston Rockets and their first playoff series win in 14 years.
Lillard, and almost every Portland player, said they were nervous before the shot went up and thought they were going back to Houston.
In the raucous postgame celebration, Lillard picked up the public address microphone and yelled “Rip City” at the top of his lungs. It was as if he channeled the feeling of an entire building.
The Blazers’ history and particularly their 1977 championship team was fresh on their minds this week with the passing of legendary coach Jack Ramsay.
The night began with a moment of silence, with Terry Stotts looking up at the screen the whole time.
It ended with a roar and look at the now and the future of the Blazers.
“Dr. Jack, he push that shot in for Damian. Thank you, Dr. Jack,” said Nicolas Batum following the emotional win.
Prior to tip off in the locker room, the Blazers didn’t look like a team that was about to play their biggest game of the season.
A banter took place discussing NBA Mount Rushmore and evolved into a discussion of which five NBA greats would make the best team.
As the media left, rookie CJ McCollum then said “Dame, LaMarcus.”
The Journalism major accurately began the list for Mount Rushmore of Game 6 and this series for the Blazers with the two that deserve the top-billing.
Aldridge scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, getting past the first round for the first time in his All-Star career. Lillard was quietly efficient, scoring 25 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing three assists to go with the game-winner.
After the game, second year player Will Barton yelled emphatically “He global now!”
“He special,” said Thomas Robinson after the game. “That boy special.”
Dwight Howard’s layup and foul shot put the Rockets up 96-94 before Nicolas Batum’s fadeaway jumper tied it again with 39.9 seconds left. Chandler Parsons scored on a reverse layup with 0.9 seconds left to give Houston the lead before Lillard won it.
Nearly every game of the series was a classic and for Nicolas Batum, who has endured six seasons without making it past the first round said it was a dream come true.
“This is what I stay up til 3 a.m. watching as a kid in France,” he said.
Then he wondered if the Blazers are making their own history.
“77, the 90’s teams, maybe the 2010’s?” he said.
Now is no time for that. Now the Blazers will get to watch a record three game-sevens in one day from the comforts of home.
The Blazers will now be off until at least Tuesday when they will play Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.
Should the Spurs prevail, the Blazers will travel to San Antonio to take on the defending Western Conference Champions. Should the Mavs win on the road, Portland will start the series at home.