In one of the most electrifying postseason performances ever, Damian Lillard had 55 points and an NBA playoff-record 12 3-pointers in the Portland Trail Blazers' double-overtime loss at the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
Lillard played 52 minutes and shot 17-of-24 from the field, including 12-of-17 from 3-point range, but it wasn't enough, as the Nuggets held him off in the second overtime to post a 147-140 victory and take a 3-2 series lead.
"It was the best playoff performance I've ever seen," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "He gave it his all."
As Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, "Damian Lillard was superhuman tonight."
Lillard, by contrast, brushed aside his performance when he was asked to reflect on it.
"It don't matter. We lost the game," Lillard said. "At this point, all that matters is we can't lose another game in the series. We go out there and we play to win the game, and we came up short."
The record-breaking 3 came with 3 minutes, 47 seconds left in double overtime as Lillard bombarded the Nuggets with a series of deep step-back jumpers to keep the Blazers in the game.
He hit one to tie the score with 3.7 seconds remaining in regulation, which came after a review overturned a foul on a 3 that would've given Lillard three free throws.
He hit another in the first overtime with 6.6 seconds left over the 6-foot-10 Michael Porter Jr. to tie the score again and force the second extra frame. That one completed a nine-point comeback in the final two minutes, all led by Lillard.
"The degree of difficulty on which he hit some of those shots is godlike," CJ McCollum said. "To be able to create space and shoot from so far out contested time after time. It's a shame we wasted one of the all-time performances by not being more supportive for him."
The Blazers' other four starters all scored in double figures, but down the stretch, Lillard carried the load. He scored or assisted on 37 of the Blazers' final 42 points; and for the game, he scored or assisted on 80 points, tied for the most ever in NBA playoff history. Lillard's 55 points are the third most ever in a playoff loss.
"He did everything that he could," Blazers forward Robert Covington said.
The mood around the Blazers' postgame was one of immense disappointment. Most of the talk around Lillard's epic performance was redirected to the situation the Blazers now find themselves in -- with their backs against the wall.
"I have empathy for Dame. I have empathy for anybody on our team," Stotts said. "But now's not the time for empathy. Now's the time to regroup and come back and get Game 6."
There was a moment in the second overtime, with about three minutes to go, when Lillard curled off a high screen moving to his left and pulled for a decently open 3. It clipped off the front of the rim, bouncing off the backboard and into the hands of Porter. But off to the side, Lillard's defender, Austin Rivers, put his hands together, looked to the sky and said, "Thank God."
Praying seemed to be about the only acceptable defense there was for Lillard.
"I'm learning to become a good poker player," Malone said. "Because probably five or six years ago when I first got here, I wouldn't have looked so composed."
Lillard has three career game-tying or go-ahead 3s inside the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, tying Reggie Miller for the most over the past 25 seasons. Lillard is also the first player in the past 25 seasons with multiple game-tying 3s in the last 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime of a playoff game. He has two career playoff games with at least 10 3s; the rest of the NBA has one (Thompson).
It was quite the bounce-back outing for Lillard, who scored just 10 points on 1-of-10 shooting in Game 4; but the Blazers blew Denver out behind a strong defensive performance and balanced scoring.
In Game 5, Portland couldn't find answers for likely league MVP Nikola Jokic, who finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and a stronger bench performance led by Monte Morris (28 points and five assists). The back and forth between Lillard and Jokic featured Lillard scoring or assisting on 22 of Portland's 26 points in clutch time, with Jokic scoring or assisting on 22 of Denver's 31.
"It was a pleasure to be on the court to witness that," Jokic said of Lillard's performance.
The Nuggets corralled Lillard to a degree in the final minutes, with his last basket coming with 3:47 remaining that gave Portland a two-point lead. After a Jokic layup, Porter followed it with the eventual game winner, a corner 3 set up by Jokic to give the Nuggets a three-point lead. It was a big response from Porter, who scored 26 on 10-of-13 shooting after being challenged by Malone before the game.
"I can't let a team or game plan take me out of a game, like what happened in Game 4," Porter said. "Even though they're doing a really tough job on me, I've got to continue to help my team any way I can."
The series returns to Portland on Thursday for Game 6.
"Tough loss, man," Lillard said. "It's do or die now."