“Something is brewing ... We’re going to fermentate it.”
Inside the Blazers’ joyful transformation
BY DAVID THORPE
Four seconds to go. Blazers and Heat tied at 107.
Damian Lillard pushes the ball up the left sideline. He accelerates, shouldering past Jimmy Butler as he reaches midcourt, galloping as he blows by a flailing Duncan Robinson. Kyle Lowry, King of Charges, shifts into Dame’s path; beyond, Heat center Bam Adebayo lurks at the rim.
But we’re talking “Dame Time,” right? Getting a shot off is a no-brainer. You don’t earn that kind of moniker for making easy shots. And Dame has options—stop and pop, drive and draw a foul, parry Lowry and launch a floater—any number of things he’s done to earn his reputation. Either he’ll be the hero, or the Blazers will get five more minutes to outscore the Heat.
It’s a great time to be a star with the ball in your hands: all reward, no risk.
Instead, surprise! Dame kicks the ball to Josh Hart, who is open in the corner because he’s not a serious 3-point threat.
To most, it all probably seemed like a not-so-special pass, an okay shot, and a decent early-season win for an up-and-coming team. But it dropped cleanly through the hoop as the buzzer sounded, touching off one of the best post-game celebrations in regular-season history.
It’s easy to overlook how incredibly shocking that play was. If a Vegas casino offered a prop bet with Dame hitting a game winner, it would see a ton of action, both for and against. The Blazers had been playing well, sure, but there’s a reason the Heat were 5.5-point favorites—they needed a win, and too often a surging team relaxes after some success. It was only a few nights ago that the Blazers split with the Suns in Phoenix, winning the first game on a last second shot by Jerami Grant before dropping the next by 20 (Lillard and Anfernee Simons missed both). It would have been no surprise to see the Blazers fold to the physical, desperate Heat. Down 15 halfway through the third quarter, there was an argument to rest veterans to ensure a quality chance to win in Charlotte, probably the East’s worst team.
You see, how they came back isn’t what’s shocking. It’s how it happened, and who made it so.
Dame chose to pass to a guy who had made five 3s all season. Hart takes fewer 3s per 100 possessions than Pelicans backup center Jaxson Hayes; he is tied with Grizzlies backup center Xavier Tillman in 3s made per 100. Hart is also tied with Ish Smith and DeMar DeRozan, who have long acted as if shots beyond the arc are actually worth 1.5 points. It feels funny to call Hart’s shot “heroic” knowing all that.
So why did one of the game’s all-time greatest clutch-shot makers pass to a teammate so loath to shoot 3s with a win on the line?
After admitting he was thinking he’d shoot before seeing Hart, Lillard said: “I saw Josh waving his hands. Easy play.”
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