Less than two months after Donovan Mitchell scored a 2022-23 NBA season-high 71 points, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard reached the same historic benchmark Sunday night, and he didn’t even need overtime to do it.
Damian Lillard scores 71 points, tied for most since Kobe Bryant’s 81
The seven-time all-star guard became just 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 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Jan 2.
“I saw it go in a few times and I just stayed aggressive,” Lillard said in a postgame interview with Root Sports. “I didn’t ease up or try to back off 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 that they play with. I just wanted to 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 come out and get back on the heater. I just kept making the right plays.”
The 2022-23 season has been defined by a wave of scoring explosions. 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 a double-overtime game 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 by himself in 1962-63.
“My mom calls me and says Damian Lillard tied your record… you gotta get 72 now,” Mitchell wrote on Twitter.
Lillard scored 41 points in the first half and he finished shooting 22 for 38 from the field, 13 for 22 on three-pointers and 14 for 14 from the free throw line. He added six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes, checking out to a standing ovation with just under a minute to play.
To put Lillard’s 71 points into perspective within Sunday’s contest, he single-handedly outscored all of his teammates combined (60) and Houston’s entire starting lineup (67). After the final buzzer, was surrounded by his teammates at center court and repeatedly doused with water. The young and overmatched Rockets, who were without 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.
“This is so great because of the efficiency,” Blazers Coach Chauncey Billups said. “Dame is always very poised out there. Even when he had his career high, he still didn’t force shots, even though we still ran every single thing for him. It was a piece of art. He kept [the Rockets] off-balance. When they got over-aggressive, he made them foul him. When they weren’t aggressive enough and they were scared of how quick he is getting to the basket, he got to his step-back. When they blitzed him and trapped him, he hit the guy in the pocket. It really, really was a masterful performance.”
Remarkably, Lillard now ranks third all-time with five 60-point efforts, trailing only Chamberlain (32) and Bryant (six). The Oakland native also owns the top six scoring performances in Blazers history: 71, 61, 61, 60, 60 and 59. No other Portland player has scored more than 54 points in a game.
One week after he won the NBA’s 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 NBA’s all-time record held by Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson.
Intentionally or not, Lillard’s outburst came after mounting chatter in recent days that the Blazers might tank down the stretch in hopes of improving their lottery odds. Lillard, who has been adamantly against tanking, sat out 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 significant ankle injury. Sunday marked Lillard’s first appearance since before the all-star break, and he left no doubt about his commitment to keeping Portland (29-31) in the chase for the play-in tournament.
“We’ve got 22 games left after this,” Lillard said. “We need to win as many as possible. Obviously being shorthanded, I know it’s going to be a team effort, but I’ve got to do my best to be aggressive and try to do what I can to get some wins. That’s all the case was tonight. I wanted to be in attack mode. I got it going and I just stayed aggressive.”
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