When Damian Lillard broke free, received the inbounds pass from Steve Blake, squared up to the basket from well beyond the three-point line, launched a shot with the game-clock dwindling down, watched it swish through, strutted downcourt, and pointed at his wrist with a silenced, dejected Oklahoma City Thunder crowd around him, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard further cemented himself as not just a star but a player worthy of following in Brandon Roy’s footsteps as the franchise’s face.
“I was just pointing to the watch,” Lillard told ESPN in regards to his game-tying three-pointer in the eventual 115-111 win over OKC. “That’s ‘Lillard Time.’ That was the first time anybody’s seen that. I was just feeling myself a little bit at the moment.”
Who can blame him? A large ego can be insufferable. A little ego like this seeping out can be uplifting. In all, Lillard, averaging 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game, is modest for a star of his caliber, but just how confident he is mirrors his on-court performance. He’s a star. He knows it. And, entering Tuesday’s contest against the Toronto Raptors, he has helped the Blazers to the most wins in the NBA with a 25-7 record. Portland still doesn’t get the press it deserves, but Lillard has the talent to make sure his team eventually does.
The point guard in his third season out of Weber State has climbed the ladder in correspondence with Portland’s overall success. It’s no mere coincidence. When Roy was the face of the Blazers, before injuries heartbreakingly shortened his career, there was a similar trend. It is unfair to compare the two players, but Lillard is having a similar impact that Roy had, not only on the court but in the media and in the hearts of Blazers fans. At the height of Roy’s career, it might have been difficult to find someone who thought the Blazers would ever again feature a player who could be as beloved as he was. Lillard is that unexpected player. And as a result of his versatility, a dangerous ability to play both facilitator and clutch, dominating scorer, Portland is as enamored as can be with the 24-year-old affectionally nicknamed ‘Dame’.
More and more within the mainstream media are picking up on the winds Portland is blowing their way with such ferocity, but Lillard is still woefully under-appreciated. He is without a doubt among the top-five guards in the NBA, and perhaps the clutchest of them all. And yet, as of the latest All-Star ballot results he is eighth in fan voting among guards. This isn’t altogether unexpected, given how little noise Portland tends to make no matter how loud they yell, but it is unfortunate. Players have in the past campaigned to gain more try to gain more votes, most notably Chris Bosh in 2007, but Lillard will not go that route. He plans to keep letting his play do the talking.
Even if the NBA’s widespread fan-base ultimately doesn’t pay attention when it comes to All-Star voting, surely the coaches will. After all, chances are, even in his short career thus far, he is already etched into their brains as a painful memory of losses past. And for now, that might just have to be enough.
When Roy took the floor, there was the feeling something special could happen. Fans felt safe when the ball was in his hands, knowing he had the capabilities to make the ultimate difference. And he often succeeded. Lillard fuels those feelings now and gets those results. Time and time again he has pulled Blazers fans out of their seats or turned opposing fans into stunned statues. That’s Lillard Time, and, with more performances like his against OKC surely to come, more and more clocks around the country will be set accordingly.