So how does a guy who just hit the biggest shot of his career spend the next day? By stepping away from his craft, as Damian Lillard did, and watching his older brother, Houston, throw for 159 yards and six touchdowns on Saturday in his Indoor Football League game in Kennewick, Wash.
“I just wanted to relax,” Lillard told Bleacher Report. “There’s still more work to be done,” which, starting Tuesday night, means trying to take out the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
But that doesn’t mean the All-Star point guard has overlooked the impact of his buzzer-beating three-pointer that finished off the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. “I’ve seen [the shot] a bunch of times,” he said.
On Sunday, when Lillard was back on the practice court with the Portland Trail Blazers, he reflected on how the franchise-changing play unfolded, propelling the team to the second round for the first time in 14 years.
“I was standing and I felt [Chandler Parsons'] arm on me, and I was just watching the referee to see when he was going to give the ball over,” he said. “And [the Rockets] were communicating whether or not they were going to switch, and as soon as [the referee] handed the ball [to Nicolas Batum], I just took off running. I think I kind of caught them off guard. I just took off. I was able to get a step on [Parsons] and get a look at the rim.
“The most exciting thing was just to see how everybody reacted to it. You got to see how valuable that game was, how much it meant to everybody, how much it meant to see that ball go in and to win that game—from the fans to the coaches to the training staff to the ball boys to our team. That’s what made me feel the best about it.”
The net snaps crisply as another corner three-pointer from Damian Lillard skims through. Lillard sees the ball drop through the hoop, turns and jogs back toward the foul line. He is visibly tired—the Trail Blazers have just wrapped up a full practice at their Portland practice facility—but his shots still sail with a perfect arc as he works through a few post-practice drills with assistant coach David Vanterpool.
Two Trail Blazers bench players, casually playing one-on-one at a nearby hoop, follow Lillard with their eyes as he prepares for another rep. “Dame!” The player with the ball calls out as Lillard approaches. “How should I do him?” motioning toward his teammate guarding him.
The player then imitates one of Lillard’s signature moves, a stutter-step-to-pull-up shot. “Or what about this?” he asks, busting out a hesitation crossover.
Lillard slows, gives the question some thought and performs a stutter step of his own. The bench players laugh; then the one with the ball does his best Lillard impression and heaves the ball toward the hoop. Lillard gives the players a small smile and gets back to work, satisfied to have shared a little expertise.
“As a point guard, you are in charge of making sure the boat keeps floating,” Lillard says later. “That means you have to keep everybody happy, because when guys aren’t happy at this level, things can go south quickly.”
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Despite his short NBA career—he is in his second season (he was Rookie of the Year in 2012-13)—Lillard is already the Blazers’ team leader. His teammates look to him for guidance and approval, and with good reason. At 23, Lillard is older than his years. He had to grow up fast.
After two days of talking, thinking about and replaying a Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors were ready to tie the series on Tuesday night.
With DeMar DeRozan taking a page out of Paul Pierce’s crunch-time playbook, the Raptors held off the Nets 100-95. Toronto will head to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 with the series even.
“We weren’t going down 0-2,” Amir Johnson said. “We were the desperate team. We had to play desperate. There was no way we were going to lose that game. It was a must-win for us.”
After struggling in Game 1, DeRozan was huge when it counted for Toronto. Finishing with a game-high 30 points, he weathered the storm and pieced together a brilliant fourth quarter.
“I’m just happy for him,” Kyle Lowry said. “A lot of people were saying he had a bad game. But everyone has a bad game once in a while. And for us, he’s had a bad game, I’ve had a bad game, but the fact that he’s an All-Star and he knows how to get his thing done, tonight just showed what he can do. And he just did an unbelievable job tonight of attacking, being aggressive and he got his rhythm going. Once he gets his rhythm going, he’s a hard guard.”
Throughout the first half of Game 2, DeRozan looked much calmer than he had in his playoff debut. He had 11 points. He looked confident rather than rushed. The jitters he’d spent the previous 48 hours atoning for seemed to be gone.
When the third quarter hit, DeRozan was served another helping of postseason difficulty. Shooting 4-for-9 in the first half, DeRozan went cold in the third, connecting on 1-for-7 attempts. After picking up his fifth foul with more than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, he was sent to the sideline. He wasn’t happy about it.
Pleading with his coach to no avail, DeRozan sat on the bench and wore his frustration all over his face. With Lowry taking care of business until he could return, the game was tied when DeRozan returned with less than four minutes remaining. He made the most of it.
Drilling back-to-back jumpers in a 35-second span, DeRozan gave the Raptors a four-point lead. When he turned the ball over on a drive to the basket with less than a minute remaining and the lead down to two, rather than losing his composure, he remained poised.
DeRozan’s fourth quarter ended up looking like this: 17 points on 4-for-5 field goals, 9-for-11 from the free throw line, and a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe in the final 20 seconds in 8:35 minutes played.
For the first time in his five-year career, DeRozan was the closer in a postseason game. He was who his team needed him to be.
The lawn sloped slightly toward the sky, giving way to a modest, three-bedroom beige duplex. No one bothered bragging about the Citrus Heights home in the shadows of Sacramento. Still, Henry Barnes, the proprietor of the picturesque lawn, tended to it as though it were the greens of Pebble Beach. “He used to cover it in plastic and threaten every kid in the neighborhood to stay off of his lawn,” said Danielle Barnes, his daughter. “Here we are living in the ghetto, and we have a golf course–quality front lawn.” Henry fiercely protected what mattered most to him, with a pride and stubbornness he passed down to his three children, including his eldest, Matt. “You protect your own,” Henry instructed. “Physically, if necessary.”
Today, Matt Barnes is a basketball irritant and the de facto enforcer on a deep Los Angeles Clippers team full of All-Stars and award winners. Barnes is neither. Yet he is one of the most integral pieces to a team with championship aspirations. A quick YouTube search yields him staring daggers into Kobe Bryant, shoving Serge Ibaka, trucking through Rafer Alston, and verbally assaulting Kevin Love. He agitates with the best of them.
Keith Smart coached Barnes at two stops: in Cleveland, where Barnes’s wayward NBA career began, and later at Golden State, where Barnes finally emerged as a regular rotation player. Smart compares Barnes to a baseball utility player. He is a piece, a valuable piece, but never the piece. And he’s comfortable in that role. “I don’t even know if there’s a word to describe what he does,” Smart said. “It’s that pestability to get beneath someone’s skin.”
Ten years and eight teams into his NBA career, Barnes insists he never starts fights. But he will end them. “If you look at my career, I’ve never really been messed with personally,” Barnes said. “When I’m in trouble, it’s usually me sticking up for somebody else or taking it for a teammate. I don’t think I’ll change that. I think I’ve toned it back a little bit, but I look at my team as my family, and I would do anything for my family just like I would do anything for my team. I think that’s given me a bad reputation with the referees. But that’s who I am.”
While the Toronto Raptors elected to sit their All-Star to get him rest in the second-last regular season game of the year, DeMar DeRozan had an important post-game commitment that he wasn’t going to miss. After cheering on his teammates from the bench during a 110-100 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night, DeRozan had some very important people waiting to speak with him.
After finishing up media obligations and once again thanking Raptors fans for their support over the course of the season and through the ups and downs of his five seasons with the team, DeRozan made his way back out to Air Canada Centre court. Joining DeRozan for Monday’s game was the Grade 5 class from St. Jane Frances Catholic School. Judy Cammarota’s class won the DeMar DeRozan All-Star Book Program challenge by reading 10 books published by Random House Children’s Books, Tundra Books, Doubleday Canada and Candlewick Press and completing book reports on each of the 10 selected titles.
For being named the winning class, St. Jane Frances Catholic School’s Grade 5 class was DeRozan’s guest for Monday’s game and also had a meet and greet with DeRozan and fiancée Kiara Morrison after the game. Being program participants also means each student received new books so they can continue reading in the months to come.