Originally Published: May 2, 2014

1. Lillard Ends Wild Series In Classic Fashion

By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A series this good, this competitive was always destined to come down to who had the ball last. And that was the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard, who delivered the final game-changing shot in a series full of them, making an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired to win Game 6 (99-98) and the series (4-2) over the Houston Rockets.

Moments earlier, the Rockets figured they'd sent the series back to Houston for a deciding Game 7 when Chandler Parsons was in the right place at the right time to follow up a James Harden miss with a reverse layup, giving Houston a two-point advantage. But the Rockets left just enough time -- 0.9 seconds -- for one final possession.

In the huddle, Portland coach Terry Stotts diagrammed a play that would bring Lillard toward inbound passer Nicolas Batum after a screen from Wesley Matthews. Lillard was one of two options on the play -- actually, the second option after forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

"The play was for LaMarcus," said Batum, "but [Lillard] was so wide open, we had to break the play."

Damian Lillard
Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY SportsDamian Lillard had six 3-pointers on the night, none more important than his series-clincher.

"To be honest, I didn't think Dame would come that open," said Stotts. "[Aldridge] was probably the first look, but Dame came wide open."

Having separated from defender Parsons, who got stuck on the screen despite Houston's emphasis on not giving up a 3-pointer, Lillard clapped to get Batum's attention. He planted his feet, caught the pass and fired as his momentum carried him away from the basket.

"It felt real good leaving my hands," said Lillard. "Once I saw it on line, I said, 'That's got a chance.'"

More than a chance. Lillard's shot splashed through the net as the Moda Center crowd that had waited 14 years to see the Blazers win a playoff series -- the league's longest drought up until the moment Lillard hit the shot -- erupted.

"After he made the shot, I didn't let him go for about three minutes," said Aldridge.

In his second season, Lillard has already established a penchant for clutch heroics. "I think he lives for those moments," Stotts said.

They don't come much bigger. Batum called it the most important shot he's seen in six years in Portland, and one of the biggest in franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first walk-off shot to win a playoff series since John Stockton's 3-pointer to cap the 1997 Western Conference finals.

The ending was fitting for a series featuring razor-thin margins. The six games were decided by a total of 28 points, with three of them coming down to the final buzzer. Over the six games, the Rockets actually outscored the Blazers by two points.

Though it did not require overtime, the final game might have been the most dramatic. Neither team led by more than 10 points, and there were five ties and four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. The last two came in the final second, producing a remarkable reversal of emotions.

"When Chandler Parsons made that layup with 0.9 seconds left, everybody was like, 'Man, we've got to go back to Houston,'" recounted Lillard. "The first thing I did after he made it was look to the other end to see how much time was left. I knew we would get a shot off. I didn't know the quality of the shot, but we got as good a look as we were going to get."

Lillard's shot delivered the Blazers their first series win since the 2000 Western Conference semifinals, when they beat the Utah Jazz. That Portland team would blow a fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, beginning a stretch of playoff futility that lasted nearly a decade and a half. During that span, the Blazers lost seven consecutive series, including back-to-back-to-back first-round losses from 2001-03 and again from 2009-11.

Along with Batum, Aldridge was part of all three first-round defeats in the more recent stretch, which started at the hands of the Rockets in 2009, and he was pleased to win a playoff series for the first time in his career.

"It feels good. It feels weird, but it feels good," said Aldridge. "The people that's been here with me, we've definitely had our moments where we felt like we should have made it and we've had teams that maybe should have done it in the past, so it feels good to finally make that step."

Though this was his first playoff series, Lillard still developed a sense over the past two years of what advancing meant to die-hard Portland fans starved for playoff success. That's why he celebrated his shot by grabbing a microphone and yelling, "Rip City" over the arena PA.

"I think our whole team really wanted to get it done for them. Not only ourselves, our group in the locker room, but for the crowd because they show up so consistently for us. They were with us. The whole series, they were with us 100 percent. I felt like they deserved to be rewarded.

"Us sticking out on the court and kind of rallying and chanting with the crowd for a while, I think that's what Portland has been looking for for a long time, as far as advancing past the first round. I'm just excited that I can be on the team with this group of guys and we were the group to get it done."

Dimes past: April 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | May 1

Kevin Pelton

ESPN Staff Writer

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