PORTLAND, Ore. — Whenever the profession of Damian Lillard ends in Portland, there might be an extended dialogue of when, and the place, his best moments came about. His 0.9 shot to beat Houston in 2014 playoffs. The 37-footer to wave bye-bye to Oklahoma City within the 2019 playoffs. His franchise-record 61 in opposition to Golden State on Martin Luther King Day in 2020. His passing of Clyde Drexler as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in December of 2022.

But when it’s all stated and finished, there may not be a greater total efficiency in his profession than what happened here Wednesday during the Trail Blazers’ 134-124 victory over Utah: Lillard scored 60 factors whereas making 21-of-29 photographs, together with 9-of-15 from 3, whereas including eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

“That was incredible, man,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups stated. “You don’t get to see that very often.”

And you don’t get to listen to this typically: In describing his fourth profession recreation of 60 or extra factors, Lillard stated it was “simple.”

You learn that proper. The man stated “simple.”

The Trail Blazers’ level guard didn’t imply easy as in straightforward, or easy as in unusual. He meant easy as in unforced. Not difficult. Non-taxing.

Early within the recreation, when Utah was constructing a 12-point first-quarter lead, Lillard stated he felt he was making the best passes. Making the right learn on when and the place to drive, and when to step again and take a 3-pointer in opposition to Utah’s drop protection.

“I thought I played the game as it should have been played,” Lillard stated.

As a outcome, he stated Utah by no means made a drastic change to their protection. As Lillard famous, it wasn’t like he got here out on hearth, forcing a change within the defensive look. He simply methodically took what the protection was giving him.

“So that’s why it was simple,” Lillard defined.

His different prime scoring nights had been all what he referred to as “high stress.” His 61 against Dallas in 2020 got here on the NBA Bubble in Orlando, when the Blazers wanted to be near-perfect to make the play-in match. The 61 in opposition to the Warriors in January of 2020 got here when starters CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić had been out. And his 60 in opposition to Brooklyn in November of 2019 got here in a loss. In all of these video games, Lillard stated he had a distinct, extra aggressive mindset than he did Wednesday.

“I was going after them,” Lillard stated. “Those were all games when I knew I had to come and take the other team out. Tonight, I knew I had to play well for us to win, but I didn’t come out like I needed to take them out. It was, take what was there.”

He took what was there, after which some.

In the third quarter, with Portland forward 82-74, Lillard scored 20 consecutive factors to finish the quarter. That gave him 50 and pushed Portland’s result in 102-86. He made 9-of-11 photographs within the quarter.

“You just kind of sit back and enjoy it, and marvel at his greatness,” Blazers ahead Nassir Little stated.

Lillard reached 60 with 1:37 remaining when he hit two free throws to place Portland up 14, and Billups stated he left him within the recreation to attempt to break his franchise and profession mark of 61. The Blazers had 4 possibilities, however Little missed, Anfernee Simons was fouled, and Lillard missed a 28-footer with 29.8 seconds left. The workforce didn’t attempt to rating on its remaining possession.

“There was still time on the clock, but I wasn’t going to be that thirsty to come back down … just to try and get a career high. I didn’t think that was the right thing to do.”

Lillard’s evening was the second highest within the NBA this season, behind Donovan Mitchell of Cleveland, who scored 71 on Jan. 3. Lillard’s 4 profession video games of 60 or extra ties him third all-time with Michael Jordan and James Harden. Kobe Bryant is second with six and Wilt Chamberlain is first with 32.

“I ain’t catching Wilt,” Lillard stated with a smile.

For now, his focus is on catching the groups forward of Portland within the standings: Golden State, Minnesota, Utah, Dallas and Phoenix are all above the Blazers (23-25). Armed with among the finest streak shooters within the recreation, the Blazers really feel like Lillard offers them an opportunity to make the postseason. But historical past has proven that an all-Lillard powered push into the playoffs isn’t a sustainable postseason formulation.

“It puts a lot of pressure on Dame,” Billups stated. “But he’s been so great that you always feel like you have that Ace of Spades … and all right, it’s time to play it. But he can’t be Superman every night.”

That would be the take a look at for the Blazers shifting ahead, whether or not they have sufficient expertise to ease the burden on Lillard. On Wednesday, starters Josh Hart (hamstring) and Nurkić (calf) left the sport and didn’t return. That pushed Little (eight factors in 32 minutes) and Drew Eubanks (eight factors, 10 rebounds in 26 minutes) into larger roles whereas Jerami Grant (19 factors) and Anfernee Simons (season-high 9 assists) complemented Lillard’s flurries.

Still, as a lot because the Blazers know they have to be an entire and well-balanced workforce, additionally they know they’ve one of many extra particular weapons within the NBA: A man who can erupt for 60 on any given evening.

“At any moment, you know he can win you a game,” Little stated. “Today was a good team win, but when you have a guy who can control a game like that, you are never out of one.”

And as successful formulation go, that’s so simple as it will get.

(Top picture of Damian Lillard: Soobum Im / Getty Images)

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