The seven-time star goaltender became the eighth player in history to score at least 70 points, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, David Thompson, David Robinson, Bryant, Devin Booker and Mitchell, who scored 71 points in an overtime win . against the Chicago Bulls on January 2.
“I saw him come in a couple of times and just stayed aggressive,” Lillard said in a post-game interview with Root Sports. “I haven’t let up or tried to back down or anything. They’re a competitive team. They play hard and with a lot of energy, and they put pressure on you with that effort they play with. I wanted just stay aggressive. I finished the half strong. In the second half they came out and gave me a lot of attention, and I just wanted to be patient. I didn’t want to try to get out and get back on the radiator I just kept making the good plays.
The 2022-23 season has been defined by a flurry of goal bursts. Entering Sunday, NBA teams were scoring 114.4 points per game, the highest average since 1969-70. The Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers combined for 351 points in double overtime Friday, marking the second-highest scoring game in league history. Together, Mitchell and Lillard produced multiple 70-point games in the same season for the first time since Chamberlain had three on his own in 1962-63.
Lillard scored 41 points in the first half and he finished shooting 22 for 38 from the field, 13 for 22 from three-point range and 14 for 14 from the free throw line. He added six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes, receiving a standing ovation with just under a minute left.
“It’s so great because of the efficiency,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “Lady is still very laid back there. Even when he reached his career peak, he still didn’t force the shots, even though we still managed everything for him. It was a work of art. He kept (the Rockets) off balance. When they got too aggressive, he pushed them to smear him. When they weren’t aggressive enough and were afraid of how quickly he was getting to the basket, he took a step back. When they attacked and trapped him, he punched the guy in the pocket. It was really, really a masterful performance.
To put Lillard’s 71 points into perspective in Sunday’s game, he single-handedly outscored all of his teammates combined (60) and all of Houston’s starting lineup (67). After the final buzzer, he was surrounded by his teammates on center court and sprayed with water several times. The young and upgraded Rockets, who lacked starting guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., rank 29th this season in defensive efficiency and have the NBA’s worst record at 13-47.
Remarkably, Lillard now ranks third all-time with five 60-point efforts, behind only Chamberlain (32) and Bryant (six). The Oakland native also boasts the best six performances in Blazers history: 71, 61, 61, 60, 60 and 59. No other Portland player has scored more than 54 points in a game.
A week after winning the NBA three-point contest at All-Star Weekend, the 32-year-old guard set a new career high with his 13 three-pointers, one shy of tying the all-time record of the NBA held by Golden. State Warriors guard Klay Thompson.
Intentionally or not, Lillard’s outburst came after rumors swirled in recent days that the Blazers might be slowing down in hopes of improving their lottery chances. Lillard, who has been adamant against tanking, missed a road loss to the Kings on Thursday after Portland’s plane was delayed by a snowstorm, and guard Anfernee Simons is sidelined with a serious ankle injury. Sunday marked Lillard’s first appearance since before the All-Star break, and he left no doubt about his commitment to guarding Portland (29-31) in the play-in tournament pursuit.
“We have 22 games left after that,” Lillard said. “We have to win as many as possible. Obviously being outnumbered I know it will be a team effort but I have to do my best to be aggressive and try to do what I can to get wins. That’s all that happened tonight. I wanted to be in attack mode. I threw it and just stayed aggressive.
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