Thanks to a third quarter meltdown which saw their five point half-time lead evaporate into thin air, the Portland Trail Blazers found themselves with their backs against the wall in the final 12 minutes of last night’s game against the Sacramento Kings. In fact, with just over six minutes to go in regulation, the Kings extended their lead to 18 points after a pair of made free throws by Derrick Williams and the game seemed all but over. But then, Damian Lillard woke Sleep Train Arena up by catching fire, scoring 18 of the team’s final 28 points and giving the Blazers a chance at pulling off the unlikely comeback.
At the end of the night, the second year point guard finished with a career-high 41 points and scored a franchise record 26 points – on 5-for-6 shooting from downtown – in the fourth quarter alone. But his most important bucket of the night came off of an in-bounds play with 25.1 seconds remaining in regulation. Faced with a six point deficit, it was a make or break moment for the Trail Blazers and they were in dire need of something to keep them in the game. So, in the timeout, Terry Stotts drew up a fantastic play, which got Lillard a wide-open look at a corner three. He knocked it down, the lead was trimmed to three and we had ourselves a ball game.
And because that play was so beautifully designed, here’s a little breakdown of what went on.
Step One – The Set-Up
Nicolas Batum has the ball on the in-bounds and everyone else has set up on the right side of the court, leaving the left side completely open. LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams set up close to each other around the elbow to make it seem as though they are going to set a double screen for either Damian Lillard or Wesley Matthews, so that they can get a shot off near the top of the key. Quincy Acy and Isaiah Thomas are basically face guarding Lillard and Matthews to prevent that from happening.
Step Two – The Trickery
Instead of setting a screen, Williams clears out to the left corner with Matthews, and Aldridge just stands still. Lillard jumps out to near the half-court line and Aldridge trails him. Thomas backs off of Lillard ever so slightly, which makes it seem as though he’s expecting the play call to be a high pick-and-roll. For the same reason, Jason Thompson backs off of Aldridge to get into help position, just in case Lillard catches the ball and decides to use the screen. Notice how the right corner is completely open.
Step Three – The “OH, NO, WE MADE A MISTAKE” Moment
Here’s a shocker: The Blazers don’t end up running the pick-and-roll that the Kings were expecting. Lillard doesn’t get the ball at the top of the key and instead, uses the screen to shake Thomas loose and cuts to the baseline where he was at the start of the play. Thomas has to go over the screen because Lillard is that deadly of a three point shooter and that puts the Kings in a bit of a pickle because Thompson gets caught ball watching and therefore has no chance of making the switch. Luckily for them, not all hope is lost as Quincy Acy is watching the play develop and makes a good effort of helping out.
Step Four – Cash, Money
Batum makes a perfect lob pass to Lillard in the corner and he gets about as good of a look as someone is ever going to get in the closing seconds of a tight game. It also helps that Lillard is shooting 52 percent on corner threes this season and that he was already engulfed in flames at that point in the game, so he fired up it up with supreme confidence and, of course, nailed it.
All in all, the Blazers were able to cut into the Kings’ lead by making it a one possession game, Lillard proved to us all again that he has ice in his veins and Terry Stotts looked like a genius, all in a matter of a couple of seconds.
Here’s a video of the play:
While the Blazers would go on to lose by four points, they made an incredible run thanks to Lillard’s late game heroics. And consider this: In a tight game, they got their best player on the night a wide open look from one of his most efficient spots on the court. The Kings are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, sure, but, as Cousins said after the game, the last person they wanted taking that shot was Lillard and he still got a wide-open look.* And it wasn’t because the Kings got lazy or fell asleep. The play was just that good.