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Lillard lights it up as Blazers stun Thunder

Guard scores 17 of his 31 points in final 3:07 in 115-110 win

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: January 10, 2016, 10:25pm
12 Photos
Damian Lillard shoots over Oklahoma City&#039;s Serge Ibaka.
Damian Lillard shoots over Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Five taps for five 3-pointers. Five taps for Lillard Time.

Damian Lillard took the form of a Phoenix in the fourth quarter Sunday, engulfing Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Moda Center in flames in a 115-110 win.

Portland’s two-time All-Star finished with 31 points, 17 of them coming in the final 3:07, including five 3-pointers in that stretch and taps on the watch as punctuation.

He also had nine assists and seven rebounds.

Like everybody else walking out of the arena, Blazers big man Meyers Leonard was in awe, yet not surprised.

“I was thinking that I was walking in the locker room,” Leonard said. “His ability to take over a game is incredible-obviously an elite scorer, ability to get his shot off pretty much any time. But I will say this — it didn’t surprise me.”

How does Lillard know when it’s the time?

When the Blazers are down by a few scores, Lillard pulling up from three in transition is one of the most exciting moments in NBA basketball.

Well, the game tells him. After a night receiving non-stop attention from the Thunder defense, he found daylight and with it, a victory to stop a three-game skid.

“The first one I hit, the big was a little bit back, our big set a big screen and I didn’t feel Russ (Westbrook) at all, so I raised up and I hit that one,” Lillard said of the first 3-pointer of the epic run. “There’s not a lot of time left in the game. I’m not going to be the guy to shy away from it. I’d rather be the one to miss those shots than not try to be the one who takes this one over. I just got aggressive.”

Lillard wasn’t the only Blazer to get aggressive. Known more for his offensive prowess, head coach Terry Stotts made a small, but aggressive tweak to turn the game. Durant was aggressive early, attacking the Blazers and scoring 28 points in the first three quarters.

The Blazers also made an adjustment in the fourth quarter, going to a rarely used strategy against Oklahoma City’s two-headed monster.

Stotts told Portland’s big men to come out harder on Durant in pick and rolls, throwing away their more conservative scheme where the big men hang around above the foul line.

Westbrook got going in the final period, but Durant was 0-for-3 and didn’t score in the fourth quarter.

No play illustrated the strategy quite like Oklahoma City’s final offensive possession when the Blazers blitzed Durant who passed to an open Serge Ibaka under the rim.

While Durant made the right play, Ibaka suffered a fierce bout of hesitation upon receiving the pass to give Mason Plumlee enough time to recover for what would be a game-sealing block.

“I don’t think they were expecting it because of our soft coverages all night, they were able to get to their midrange,” CJ McCollum said.

The Blazers haven’t practiced that style of pick and roll defense since the preseason, so to throw it out in the fourth quarter of a game against one of the league’s best team took guts and trust.

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McCollum said: “We have bigs who are able to move. Plumlee, I’m sure he remembers the college days of hard hedges and traps. Ed Davis, this is his first year here. They’re used to playing pick and roll defense similar to what we did in the last 3 minutes. It wasn’t a big change, it was more about being aggressive, using their athleticism. Coach did a good job of trusting us.”

After being dominated in the first meeting back in Oklahoma City, Portland’s bench was up to the task Sunday.

Davis suffered a right knee contusion in Friday’s loss to the Warriors but still managed to suit up for his team Sunday.

Davis’ energy was huge for the Blazers as he finished with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

Allen Crabbe pitched in 11 points off the bench including a big 3-pointer during Lillard’s firestorm.

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer