In all other universes, all alternate timelines, Damian Lillard is a Portland Trail Blazer. Whether he’s the first overall pick or the last, he is taken by the Blazers. Maybe he doesn’t always become the hero, but he’s always a Blazer. Time is a flat circle, and so forth.
You can imagine Damian Lillard in another jersey – from the Laker’s forum blue and gold to the Knicks’ orange and blue – but that picture rings wrong in the mind. The only colors that fit Lillard is red and white; the only logo that makes sense is the pinwheel. It’s as if Lillard’s a recompense from the basketball gods – for Oden, Roy, the Jail Blazers, everything the franchise has had to deal for what seemed like countless millennia.
Friday, Lillard didn’t advance the Trail Blazers to the second round for the first time in fourteen years. Well, he did, but his shot did much more than that – he broke the once-never-ending circle of pain and heartbreak, harmonizing all of Portland’s possible futures.
The Blazers’ recent playoff experiences are one of aching despair. For three years in a row, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. First came the Rockets, and with them, a gameplan that stifled an offense too Roy-centric. They blitzed pick and rolls to death and made Roy’s life a living hell. Following them were the Suns and the last hurrah of the Nash/Stoudemire pick and roll. Then came the Mavericks, destined for greatness though they didn’t yet know it. Roy, save for one spectacular fourth-quarter miracle, couldn’t overcome his physical limitations placed upon him by the bone-on-bone grinding of his knees. Roy would later be amnestied by the team, signaling an end – to what was supposed to be a dynasty, to one of the team’s all-time greats, and, supposedly, to any hope of a playoff appearance, much less win, for sometime.
Time, circuitous as ever, once more pitted the Blazers against the Rockets. But this would not be the same story as before.
Now, with Lillard and a perfectly complementary supporting cast, the Blazers finally had (and have) someone that simply makes things happen. And with .9 seconds left in the game, he did just that. He did that, is doing that, and will do that in every parallel universe and timeline. He always screams up the sideline, past two screens, and receives the ball just to the left of the arc’s apex. He always rises, calmly, dispassionately, and lets it fly just before the buzzer sounds. And the ball always goes in. It’s a shot that aligned all of those possibilities floating around in the parallel worlds, both the one in which Lillard’s the 12th man and where he’s the undisputed MVP.
After the game, Terry Stotts said the shot was meant for either LaMarcus Aldridge or Lillard. But there was never any question as to who would take it – not really. It was always going to be Lillard, and it always will be.