Over the past five seasons, Damian Lillard has needed to carry the Trail Blazers like few other stars in the modern NBA are required to lift their respective teams. He has met the challenge with clutch playoff shots and endurance under pressure.
Fans are used to seeing the Oakland, Calif., native shine under maximum scrutiny of opposing defenses. But what fans have seen from Lillard this week is an entirely new level — even for him.
He became just the 12th player in NBA history to produce back-to-back 50-point games on Tuesday, scoring 61 in a 134-132 against the Mavericks two days after scoring 51 against the 76ers. The performance not only was the first of its kind — SportsCenter reports it's the first 60-point, five-rebound, five-assist game in NBA history — but also guaranteed the Trail Blazers' Thursday game vs. the Nets will be a play-in game for the playoffs.
"I ain't come here to waste my time," Lillard said in a postgame TNT interview. "You know what we're here for. We're here to get in (to the playoffs)."
The Trail Blazers are fighting for their season right now. They entered Tuesday half a game out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
Lillard made a 3 several steps beyond the arc to level Portland on Tuesday before setting up Hassan Whiteside with an assist his next time down the floor.
Remarkably, Lillard's finishing touch on the victory came on the defensive end. He drew an offensive foul with 4.5 seconds remaining and the Trail Blazers ahead by one point. Teammate C.J. McCollum hit free throws to seal the win.
Below are three stats that underline how special Lillard has been:
Over the past two games — both essentially must-wins for Portland — Lillard has shot 55 percent from the field. His teammates have shot just 43.4 percent.
Lillard leads the NBA in minutes per game this season, at 37.3. He has finished top 10 in that category every season since 2015-16. His game never seems to tire — he scored 22 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday against the Mavericks and 17 points in the fourth quarter against the 76ers.
With his 61-point outburst on Tuesday, Lillard is now averaging 37 points per game in seven NBA bubble contests.
Lillard's performance on Tuesday gave him his 11th 50-point game of his career, moving him ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and tying him for eighth all-time with Allen Iverson.
Lillard joined elite company with his outbreak on Saturday, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history with three 60-plus games in one season. Lillard's latest one couldn't have come at a better time.