The game is on the line for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz. The clock is winding down, and the Blazers have the ball. Stars shine the brightest in these types of moments, and for Portland, there is no doubt who is getting their chance to score. Damian Lillard gets the ball, drives down the lane, is met with contact at the rim and finger rolls a shot that careens off the backboard, appearing towards the rim. Rudy Gobert flies in, blocks the shot, and immediately everyone in the arena knows that it wasn't legal. Announcers are livid, Lillard needs to be restrained, but the referees stick with their call, and Portland drops another game in the standings.
Lillard dug into the officiating after the game, much to the delight of fans online. It's a strange irony that the only way to stop Damian Lillard right now is to goaltend.
Teams have thrown small guys on him, they've sent their largest players, commissioned double-teams and even added extra defenders on top of that to stop the one-man scoring sensation that fits into the classic black and red Blazer jerseys. Whatever defensive tactic teams have thrust at Lillard, he's made them pay miserably.
Over Lillard's last 12 games, he has averaged 40.3 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.8 RPG on 51% shooting, and an unheralded 49% from deep. The 33 points Lillard pumped in on Sunday night helped Portland to their seventh win in the last ten games and moved them within 2.5 games of the Grizzlies for the last spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Lillard's last ten games have seen him go over 60 once, over 50 twice, and over 40 six times. Lillard has started to trend in James Harden territory, where we take his scoring ability for granted so much that these remarkable statistics start to feel completely commonplace.
It isn't as if defenses are trying to make it easy for the veteran sharpshooter. Lillard believes the concepts teams are deploying on him aren't anything different than what he's seen over his career, especially in terms of being bumped around.
"I think it's been that way for a while now," Lillard said. "It's more obvious on a team like that because they just look bigger and they've got so many like-sized guys, it stands out more. But I think it's pretty much been that way for a while now. Small, tall, strong -- I'm a scorer I know how to play, so I'm going to figure out a way to do what I need to do."
But Lillard's greatness will forever be in limbo. His team's struggles to make waves in the playoffs and the general sense that Portland will never be more than a possible playoff Cinderella will always eat at the credibility he has rightfully earned. Teams have known that this run of scoring was eventually coming, he's displayed his superstar ability since he drove north from Weber State. This last week of tallies, however, has thrown him straight to the top of the NBA's Point Guards, and it's almost impossible to counter with a point guard more influential or skillful than the Blazers' current point man.
Recency Bias would tell us that we've completely forgotten about Russell Westbrook, the man who has averaged a triple-double for the past three seasons in Oklahoma City. Westbrook hasn't lost all of his production after a trade to the Rockets Harden based offense either. In January, Westbrook put up a stat-line of 32.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 8.2 APG, numbers that make stat-junkies mouths drool. Through three games in February, Westbrook has racked up 34.0 PPG and is still the fiery, electric, high-passion player we've come to love. Ignoring Westbrook's productivity and team standing would be negligent.
Yet Damian Lillard knocked Westbrook off the mantle as league's best when he eliminated Westbrook's thunder in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Here's the exact moment when:
Until the Blazers get to the Finals, Lillard will never fully get his credit as league's best Point Guard. Even with that accolade, he wouldn't need it. He's already the league's best, and his hot-streak is just his welcoming tour.