National Basketball Association

Damian Lillard is making his case as one of the clutchest players in NBA history

February 19

It's becoming harder to deny who wears the crown as the NBA's most dangerous player in late-game situations.

Here's a hint: It's "Dame Time."

Damian Lillard, the superstar point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers, has his team streaking, as they've won six games in a row and eight of their past nine. The latest was a 126-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, when Lillard scored 43 points, handed out 16 assists and delivered – once again – his typical fourth-quarter magic.

For Lillard, this has become the norm.

He has made 25 game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. That's more than anyone else since he entered the NBA in 2012-13.

Included among these shots are three game-winning buzzer-beaters, two of which came in the postseason against the Houston Rockets in 2014 and the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019.

This season, Lillard is averaging 7.7 PPG in the fourth quarter (fourth in NBA) on 48.6% shooting from the field, 45.9% shooting from 3-point land and 92.7% shooting from the free-throw line.

But when you zero in more closely on what the NBA defines as "clutch time," he has been even better.

"Clutch time" is defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer. This season, Lillard leads the NBA in "clutch time" scoring, with 5.5 PPG on an otherworldly 63.2% shooting from the field, including 58.8% from beyond the arc and 100% from the charity stripe.

The Blazers are 12-3 in those "clutch" games. 

With a track record of clutch dominance that spans nearly a decade, Lillard is reaching rarified air, and on Thursday's "Undisputed," Shannon Sharpe said not only that Lillard is the most clutch player of his generation but also that he compares favorably to Michael Jordan – at least in that area of the game.

"He's all-time clutch. I have seen enough."

What makes Dame's antics all the more impressive this season is that they've come in the face of adversity.

Injured starters C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have missed 15 and 16 games, respectively, and still, the Blazers find themselves with a record of 18-10. That's good for fourth in the Western Conference and fifth in the NBA.

Along the way, Lillard has averaged 29.8 points and 7.7 assists and is shooting 38.3% from 3-point range. Those numbers, coupled with his late-game heroics and the Blazers' winning streak, have Lillard sitting squarely in the middle of the MVP conversation for some pundits.

NBA insider Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports joined "Undisputed" to proclaim Lillard one of the three leading candidates for the award at this point in the season.

"I've got to go right now LeBron [James] No. 1 by a hair, Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard. And Damian, he's catching guys."

However, not everyone is sold. FOX Sports' NBA insider Chris Broussard believes that the only way Lillard will be viewed as an all-time clutch player and MVP contender by most fans is if he leads the Blazers on a deep playoff run.

"Damian Lillard is definitely one of the all-time great clutch players. At this rate, however, only the true, hard-core fans of the game will think of him in that regard. That's because he has yet to do it on the biggest of stages. All his clutch shots have come during the regular season or in the early playoff rounds.

"When you think of the greatest clutch players, these names come to mind: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, Chauncey 'Mr. Big Shot' Billups, Robert 'Big Shot Bob' Horry, Kyrie Irving, Jerry West, Larry Bird. What do those guys all have in common? They hit big, clutch shots during the conference finals and NBA Finals. And all of them besides Reggie Miller won at least one championship."

Lillard has the Blazers climbing the standings, and with McCollum and Nurkic expected back soon, Portland will once again be whole.

If the Blazers can get healthy heading into the postseason, this might be the year "Dame Time" comes around later than normal.


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