On Friday night, Damian Lillard used just 0.9 seconds to drop in a three-pointer, send the Houston Rockets home and enter his submission into the hallowed hall of playoff game winning shots. The history of playoff game winners has something for everyone. I find myself partial to Rex Champman’s one-legged, over-the-shoulder hurl and Sean Elliott’s don’t-you-dare-put-your-heels-down Memorial Day Miracle. But I know the kinetic chaos on these particular plays doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Other than the fact that it literally decided a playoff series the only thing grippingly noteworthy about Lillard’s shot is that it came in such a narrow chronologic window. 0.9 seconds is the NBA’s arbitrarily agreed upon cut-off for a catch and shoot attempt, so there was no time for physical extravagances. Footspeed carried Lillard over two middling screens, creating separation from Chandler Parsons, and that margin of space he built up is what carried the shot over Parsons’ outstretched arms. His momentum caused him to drift slightly to his left but not enough to appropriately characterize it as a fall-away. In the end it’s just a fairly open, mostly balanced, slightly deeper-than-normal three-pointer. Oh, and it came with 0.9 seconds on the clock and it won a playoff series.
Random variance and enormous sample size have created enough other staggeringly implausible playoff game-winning shots that a hard memory of Damian Lillard’s probably won’t endure for long outside the greater Portland metropolitan area. But it really was perfect. The Trail Blazers don’t waste space or movement. Everything they do on offense is about reducing the level of difficulty, not overcoming it. They create open jump shots and they drill them, simple as that. In the context of this team and this player there wasn’t a more fitting end for this series. If Lillard had stumbled, tossing up an underhand heave that had gone in as he was falling out of bounds he might have found himself an enduring place on playoff montage videos. But you’ve likely already forgotten about Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers and this shot. After all, Zach Randolph punched somebody! The Pacers are back! Paul Pierce is ageless! Kevin Durant is reliable! The Spurs are invincible!
But the Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers aren’t built to drive narratives. They’re built to make jump shots; beautiful, open, on balance, high-arcing jump shots.