The Portland Trail Blazers haven't had a very good month of January. They had a 4-8 record going into Wednesday's game against the Utah Jazz, and when they fell behind Utah by 12 points in the first half, it appeared as though they would suffer their ninth defeat and fall back to 13th place in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard then, you know, happened.
The Blazers' survival in January has been entirely dependent on Lillard's individual scoring. He was within striking distance of his 30-point career high with a season average of 29.3 points per game after averaging 35.6 points over his previous nine games entering Wednesday. All of that, though, is nothing compared to what he accomplished against Utah on Wednesday.
The last phrase? Being the only player in NBA history to score 60 points on 21 of 29 shots, he joins Wilt Chamberlain (four times), David Thompson, and Karl Malone as the only other players to accomplish this feat. It was Luka Doncic's one-man comeback against the New York Knicks that made it the third 60-point effort of the year and the equal of Donovan Mitchell's 71 points. Lillard was the lone Blazer to score from the 6:42 mark of the third quarter to the 11:10 mark of the fourth. Fortunately for Portland, throughout that span he scored 20 straight points for them.
Lillard narrowly missed out on scoring 48 of Portland's 124 points throughout the contest. Nine of the 17 3-pointers the Blazers shot as a team were made by him, and he also made nine of the team's fifteen free throw attempts, or 60 percent of them. He made more field goals than the rest of Portland's starting lineup combined with 21. (18).
It was one of the best individual performances of the year, and Portland's past results indicate that it need almost every point to win 134-124. After all, Portland lost to Cleveland two weeks ago despite a 50-point performance from Lillard, the third 50-point loss of his career. They wasted a 44-point performance of his against Denver five days later.
Even if the Blazers' defense is still the 22nd-best in the NBA, when Lillard sits out, their offense suffers an approximately 13-point decline in points scored per 100 possessions. If they need 60 points from Lillard simply to get through a January date with the Jazz, this squad is likely in serious trouble going forward.
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