Connor’s Corner: Damian Lillard 

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, drives to the basket on Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr., right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. Lillard scored a franchise record 71 points as the Blazers won 131-114. Photo by APNewsroom.

Writer’s Note: This article was written as recently as the Portland Trail Blazers’ Sunday night home game against the Houston Rockets. 

Hello and welcome back to the seventh edition of Connor’s Corner, where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. Now that the NBA All-Star Game has passed, we look forward to an exciting second half of NBA action to decide which teams will make a playoff appearance. One team in particular, the Portland Trail Blazers, are on the bubble. A star-studded performance on Sunday night helped lift his team to victory, giving them a solid case for a play-in appearance. That player was none other than Damian Lillard. 

The Trail Blazers vs. the Rockets wasn’t a game many had marked on their calendar, as Houston is all but eliminated with a 13-47 record thus far while Portland has flirted with a .500 record all season. However, the 19,215 fans that attended the game were in for a treat, as generational talent Lillard had himself a career game. Lillard exploded from the get-go, scoring 16 in the first and a total of 41 for the half, which included an unreal 36′ fast break three that was almost from halfcourt to close out his first half. After that happened, many people thought they would witness something special that night, like Carmelo Anthony’s eerily similar performance in 2014. Anthony hit a buzzer-beater from halfcourt to give him 37 first-half points en route to a franchise high 62 points for the Knicks. 

Lillard’s second half was just as good as his first, as the guard did it all: getting to the free throw line, slamming it down and hitting 3-pointers from the logo. When it was all said and done, the Portland star had 71 points, tied with Donovan Mitchell for the most in the league this season, and his 13 made 3-pointers that night were one short of the NBA record that Golden State’s Klay Thompson set. Surprisingly, this game was within reach for the Rockets as they only lost by 17. Funnily enough, the California native broke his franchise’s record of 61 points, which he has done on two other occasions. Wilt Chamberlain set the NBA record with 100 points. Lillard’s performance was so special that even league officials took notice and “randomly drug tested” him immediately after the contest. 

“I mean, honestly, I was like, ‘Are y’all serious?’” Lillard said Sunday during his postgame news conference. “I did the urine test yesterday and they backed it up with the blood draw tonight after the game and it was actually the first time in my career being tested after a game. And then, aside from that, they know that I’m scared of needles.” 

The guard is a rarity in professional sports today, as he has spent his entire 10-year career with the team that drafted him, despite rumors circulating he might sign with a different team. Lillard has enjoyed a solid career, averaging 25 points per game and an exceptional 90% from the charity stripe, everything you look for in a franchise player. This season in particular has been one to remember for the future Hall of Famer, as he just broke the franchise record in single game scoring. On top of that, he averages a career-high 32.3 points per game and has the potential to lead his team to the playoffs, where anything can happen. Despite his team’s struggles, Lillard is one of the best performers ever in the summer classic. Since Lillard has been around, Portland has been as far as the Western Conference Championship once, where they were swept by Steph Curry and the Warriors. They have been to the playoffs eight times, an excellent mark for Blazer fans. 

However, when Portland fans think of the ‘moment’ that defined who Lillard is, it would be in Game 5 of 2019’s first round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The highlight of that night was when, in a tie game, Lillard dribbled the ball upcourt with 13 seconds left. Everyone knew he was taking the shot at that point, but it didn’t matter — Lillard was too quick. He launched a fadeaway three at a couple of steps from halfcourt with no time left and nailed it, thus ending the Thunder’s hopes at a ring. 

Before all the fame and fortune, Lillard attended St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, California, the same high school of NBA legend Jason Kidd. Lillard didn’t do much in his first two seasons, so he transferred to Oakland High. There, he got more playing time and, in turn, averaged 20 points per game his junior year and 28 his senior year. While these aren’t the most eye-popping stats, Lillard was a three-star recruit out of high school and caught the attention of Weber State, where he excelled. 

Lillard finished his collegiate career ranked second in school history with 1,934 career points, fifth in Big Sky Conference history. He played in 103 games, starting 98 of them. The former three-star still leads Weber State in career 3-pointers, free throws and free throw percentage. Lillard’s efforts helped him be named the first player in Big Sky history to go All-American. As a junior, he finished second in the country in points per game. After his solid junior year, Lilllard would declare for the NBA Draft, and the Portland Trail Blazers would take him No. 6 overall. 

More recently, Lillard has gone back to his roots, raising money to improve his alma mater’s gym, music facilities and a new weight room. He even staged his own rap performance for the high schoolers there, as he makes rap music under the alias Dame D.O.L.L.A. Rappers Lil Uzi Vert, Fetty Wap and DJ Esco even showed up to support. 

Lillard has done everything right up to this point, and with the team only sitting half a game out of the play-in tournament; anything is possible. Portland needs Lillard to have more explosive nights like Sunday, and if he does, this Blazer team can certainly win on any given night. 

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