Main menu


The night Damian Lillard signals the turn, he lets his protege Anfernee Simons secure a Trail Blazers victory.

featured image

Damian Lillard was struggling, and the Phoenix Suns were mostly desperate to stop him during the Portland Trail Blazers’ 113-111 win in overtime at Fashion Center Friday night.

Playing mostly subpar 29 games last season due to injury, Lillard revived his old tricks as he scored 41 points against the Suns.

Pull-up three-pointer. feedbacks. Floating fades. Unconscious deep kicks that frighten young basketball coaches.

Lillard mostly kept going. In overtime, however, Lillard managed to score the final kick, drawing six All-Star Games 111-111 after missing a potential game at the end of regulation.

After Devin Booker missed, Lillard brought the ball onto the field and passed to Anfernee Simons from the left. After nearly seven seasons with Lillard’s new backcourt, CJ McCollum, he found himself in a relatively unconventional position.

It was an important game and the ball was in his hands.

While Lillard said she spoke to Simons prior to the season, she insisted she stay confident and focused.

The 6-foot-3 Simons, 6-6 Mikal Bridges, who was a good friend, was defending him, dribbled between his legs three times as he advanced, and then dashed to the right of the key, raised and swung a running baby hook. Portland leader.

The Blazers continued to win after Deandre Ayton missed two free throws, creating a moment between Lillard and his protege where both hopes became more common as players sought to ease some of the burden off Lillard’s shoulders.

“This is what’s supposed to happen,” Lillard said. “There has to be balance. It has to come from different angles. If people know that it will be me every time, that makes it easier to protect me. And they can rely on the fact that we don’t show that we really trust each other. So, I think there was a moment to do that. I chose to do it. And it came and made me look good, I guess. “

There was a lot to open between these two in this game. But let’s start with Lillard.

Lillard has told the world for months that she feels great physically and mentally after undergoing abs surgery in the second half of last season. Just feeling better made all the difference.

“I felt this was a breakthrough moment for me,” he said.

But he still needed to show that he was totally back in a game.

“It was only a matter of time when that would happen,” Lillard said.

In Sacramento on Wednesday, Lillard went 5 out of 18 for 20 points in a 115-108 win. It is not important. Shooters have off nights. But he needed to see his physical health turn into a great game.

It was clear early against the Suns that Friday would be that night.

Lillard played a fascinating halftime, losing 8 out of 12 shots for 28 points. However, his teammates came together to take only 6 of 22 shots and the Blazers finished the first half 53-47. Partnering with the team’s shooting misery, Simons went 7 in 1 for three points.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard celebrates with teammate Anfernee Simons at the conclusion of Portland’s overtime win over the Phoenix Suns at the NBA game Friday, October 21, 2022, at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.Sean Meagher/Oregonian

Phoenix was above him. They saw what he did last January and February when he played as a potential future Lillard. And no doubt they saw him scoring 22 points against the Kings.

So the Suns went after Simons, who gave them credit for doing a job that trapped him in pick-and-roll matches.

“This destroyed me,” he said. “It was difficult to get a good rhythm. I had a few shots in the last second that I had to shoot. So I was trying to calm myself down and have a better second half.”

Blazers coach Chancey Billups said Simons needed to respond better to pressure.

“It caught a few bad spots on the ground,” Billups said.

Simons had to pass because Lillard’s goals slowed down in the second half. He scored five points in the third quarter, six in the fourth, and just two in overtime.

Lillard said he encouraged Simons in their first fight, knowing that the 2018 first-round pick will be necessary at some point.

“You still need to look after yourself and know that I have to find those moments,” Lillard said, referring to Simons. “Whatever happens for the rest of the game, I still have to be able to go big.”

In Lillard’s great first half, Phoenix began paying extra attention to him in the second half. At the end of the edit, the two defenders drew while a potential game winner came out of the front rim and tied the game.

In overtime, Lillard moved on to Simons after seeing Phoenix once again come to him with two defenders. But he did it thinking he could get the ball back.

“For a moment I said, ‘I’m going to wait a bit and then I’m going to get back to the ball,'” Lillard said.

But he stopped himself and waited to see what Simons was up to.

“He gave me the ball and trusted me to play,” Simons said.

He did and the Blazers won, with Simons scoring 16 points.

Portland Trail Blazers protect Anfernee Simons

Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons scored a goal against Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges during an NBA game played at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Friday, October 21, 2022.Sean Meagher/Oregonian

“It will be great for him to see that I was willing to trust him in those moments,” Lillard said.

It was the biggest shot of Simons’ career. He recalled the three big games he hit in his second season at home against Philadelphia on November 2, 2019. Basket took a 128-126 lead with 2.6 seconds to the Blazers. However, Philadelphia’s Furkan Korkmaz hit a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left for the 76ers to win 129-128.

“We finally lost these three, that doesn’t count,” Simons said with a laugh.

As for the hook kick, Simons started liking it.

“It’s a pretty tough shot to block,” Simons said. “I find it successful in doing this. I haven’t blocked it yet.”

Simons said he often works on the running hook. He’ll spend 30 minutes playing with the shots and get tangled in the hooks. He found that sinking them comes naturally.

“I found a good touch doing this, so I started doing it in-game,” Simons said.

Lillard had seen Simons’ hook in action many times.

“This is our warm-up exercise,” Lillard said. “And I told him he looked like a rep when he got into it.”

The shot selection caught Lillard a bit off-guard.

“I’m surprised he went to her,” Lillard said. “But he did in practice the day before the regular season started. It’s becoming one of his essentials.”

While he can too, Lillard may not be able to do it with one of his regular shots.

“He’s more athletic than I am,” Lillard said. “So, when he reaches the launch pad, he lifts it higher than me. But mine is pretty good. I say go the other way, mine is better with the left hand.”

It was just one night, but it contained two important moments. Simons showed that he can fill CJ McCollum’s place in a big moment. And more importantly, Lillard showed that he can still carry a team.

“I think there’s something there when you have one of these games,” Lillard said. “It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve found my place. I found my foundation and found a good space to be in.’”

Anfernee Simons vs Suns

The Portland Trail Blazers bench reacts after Anfernee Simons (1) hits the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA basketball game on Friday, October 21, 2022, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) )AP

— Aaron Fentress | | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories