The Portland Trail Blazers touched down in New Orleans just three hours before tip-off on the second night of a back-to-back....but somebody forgot to tell Damian Lillard.
Coming off a game-winning performance against the OKC Thunder just a day earlier, Lillard took it to the next level, recording 43 points and a career-high 16 assists in their 126-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lillard is just the fifth player in NBA history to record 43 and 16 in a game, joining James Harden (x2), Trae Young, Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson (x3) and the first Blazer since Clyde Drexler in 1986 to record 40 points and 15 assists.
With the game in the balance down the stretch, Lillard again took over for the Blazers, scoring the go-ahead and-1 bucket to put them in front for good. Brandon Ingram's last-second jumper was off on the next possession and the Blazers held on to make it six wins in a row.
DOES ANYONE HAVE THE TIME pic.twitter.com/6HdDUx4q6b- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) February 18, 2021
"I drew contact and I just focused on the finish ... and-one, make the free throw, and then after that it was just up to us to get a stop," Lillard said post-game
Lillard's MVP case strengthens with every game he plays, helping the Blazers stay afloat without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, now sitting at 18-10 on the season, climbing to fourth in the Western Conference.
His Blazers teammates certainly agree.
40 piece with 16 dimes . Sheeeshhh . Back to back traveling on the day of the game🤣🤣🤣 @Dame_Lillard really serving cheat code style like he playing mortal Kombat- CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) February 18, 2021
Dame is MVP https://t.co/BmA2q6BS7o- Jusuf Nurkić (@bosnianbeast27) February 18, 2021
Lillard's late-game heroics are nothing new, but the 30-year-old has been electric late in games this season. He is leading the league in clutch scoring, with 82 total clutch points, shooting 24-of-38 from the field (63.2%), 10-of-17 from the 3-point line (58.8%) and 24-of-24 (100%) from the free-throw line in those situations.
Damian Lillard should be in the MVP conversation.- StatMuse (@statmuse) February 18, 2021
Since CJ/Nurkic injury:
• 14 games
• 35.6 PPG
• 8.6 APG
• 9-5 record
• 6 straight wins
He has led the Blazers to a 18-10 record, 5th best in the entire league. pic.twitter.com/wt7bxGhg5T
Lillard's recent play has forced his way into the MVP conversation but based on his numbers and the Blazers' success, it might not be long till he's considered among the favourites, if he isn't already.
All five Blazers starters scored in double figures on the night, with Gary Trent Jr. adding 23 points, Robert Covington 12 points and eight rebounds, Derrick Jones Jr. 13 points and seven rebounds and Enes Kanter 11 points, while Carmelo Anthony chipped in 12 points off the bench.
Zion Williamson's impressive start to the season continues, matching his career-high with 36 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field. He's now scored 30+ points in consecutive games for the second time this season.
LOOK HE'S FLYING @Zionwilliamson pic.twitter.com/0Ar2ykvtY2- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 18, 2021
He came close to giving the Pelicans the win, burying a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left, before Lillard shut the door.
The 20-year-old is averaging 29.6 points over the past seven games while shooting a ridiculous 69.4 percent from the field during that stretch.
The Blazers will look to extend their win streak to seven games when they host the Washington Wizards on Monday (ET), while the Pelicans are back in action Saturday (ET), hosting the Phoenix Suns.
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