Sports

Damian Lillard drops the microphone on the Jazz with a historically efficient 60-point game

PORTLAND — While scoring 60 points for the fourth time in his career during Wednesday’s 134-124 win over the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard made history with his efficiency.

Lillard needed just 29 shot attempts and 10 free throw attempts to score 60, putting him in elite company. Only two other players (Karl Malone with 26 in 1990 and James Harden with 24 in 2019) have reached 60 points on fewer shots, but both scored a high percentage of their points at the foul line and made 23 free throws each.

Meanwhile, only one player to score 60 (Rick Barry in 1974, with five) has done so with fewer than 10 free throw attempts. Because of these limited opportunities, Lillard had the highest true shooting percentage—a measure of combined efficiency on shot attempts and free throws—ever in a 60-point game (.898).

“It was unbelievable, man,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “You don’t see that very often, to be that efficient. For a guy to score 60 points and only make 10 free throws and make nine of them, you think either this guy has an absurd amount of 3s. It was just unbelievable , how effective he was.”

In fact, Lillard made nine 3-pointers, the second-most ever in a 60-point game behind his own total of 11 in January 2020. He shot 72% overall from the field (21 of 29), sixth-best in a 60-point game.

Since he typically doesn’t check his phone before leaving the arena, Lillard didn’t realize his 60-point night was historic until he was told about it by the media after the game.

“That’s the most efficient 60-point game ever, really?” Lillard said. “It’s crazy. I didn’t know that. I’m just sitting here thinking I had a shot at the end of the shot clock from half court toward the end that I shot. It probably would have been a little bit better. I missed a free throw. Damn.”

The early stages of the game gave no indication that Lillard would enter the record books. He had just nine points in the first quarter before warming up. Lillard scored 17 points in the second quarter and was at 30 for the game when he exploded late in the third period.

Starting with a layup at the 6:42 mark of the third, Lillard went on to score Portland’s final 20 points of the period, shooting 7-of-9 from the field in that span with three 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats & Information surveys, he was the third player this season to score 20 consecutive points for his team, as well as the second to reach 50 points through three quarters. (Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns was the other.)

Remarkably, Billups had to be convinced to keep Lillard in the game during that stretch.

“I thought he was tired at the end of the third and he was so hot,” Billups said. “I came into the timeout and I said, ‘How are you? I really wanted you out here for the last two minutes.’ GP (Gary Payton II) and everybody said, ‘No, let him go!’ I said, man, this could be a good game at the end. I don’t want him tired because he got 45, 50. He said, ‘I’m good, I’m good.’ I’ve got to trust guys in those moments.”

Despite Lillard’s heroics, the Jazz managed to stay within striking distance, allowing Lillard to return to the game and approach his career high of 62 points. He reached 60 for the fourth time in his career on a pair of free throws with 1:37 left, but didn’t attempt to beat the Blazers’ next two possessions. That’s when Billups reminded him of the effort.

“That’s the only reason I kept him in the game,” Billups said. “I would have gotten him out. I told him when I pulled him over, I said, ‘bro, what are you doing?’ We run the same play. I’m trying to get you your career high. He looked at me and said, ‘OK, I’ll get it.’ Bro, I would have gotten you out and given you the standing O you deserved. It just speaks to who he is. He didn’t even think about it.”

On the ensuing Portland drive downfield, Lillard shot a deep 3-pointer before Utah could double-team him, but it missed. With seconds on the clock as the Blazers regained possession, Lillard conceded the chase.

“There was still time on the clock, but I didn’t want to be that thirsty to come back with so much time left in the game just to get a career high,” he explained. “I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do, so that’s how it ended up.”

Lillard is tied for the second most points in the NBA this season. Donovan Mitchell had 71 in an overtime game for Cleveland against Chicago on Jan. 3, and Luka Doncic scored 60 in Dallas’ OT win over New York on Dec. 27.

As just the fifth player in NBA history to score 60 points at least four times, joining a group that includes Wilt Chamberlain (32), Kobe Bryant (6), James Harden and Michael Jordan (4 each), is Lillard is in the rare position of being able to compare such performances. For him, Wednesday’s match stood out for its simplicity.

“It was pretty simple,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy because they had some big bodies and some tall defenders out there, but I think I usually get into a groove where I just go without making the simple plays that team starts coming after me sooner.

“I kicked it forward, I swung it so it didn’t feel like they were coming after me at the very end. That’s why it seemed the simplest of them all.”

Although Lillard is now the third-oldest player to score 60 points at age 32, according to ESPN Stats & Information, he has a chance to continue adding to his total. Already he was impressed with the rare company he joined on Wednesday.

“I don’t catch Wilt,” Lillard said. “It’s out. Dang, that’s cool.”

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