The month of January hasn’t been especially kind to the Portland Trail Blazers. Entering Wednesday’s game with the Utah Jazz, they had a 4-8 record in the month, and when they trailed Utah by 12 in the first half, it looked like they were about to pick up their ninth loss and slip back to 13th place in the Western Conference. And then, well, Damian Lillard happened.
Lillard’s individual scoring has been all that’s kept the Blazers afloat in January. He entered Wednesday averaging 35.6 points in his past nine games, and his 29.3 points per game average on the season has him within spitting distance of his 30-point career high. Yet all of that pales in comparison to what he did on Wednesday against Utah.
The final line? A stellar 60 points on 21-of-29 shooting, making him just the fourth player in NBA history to score 60 points on 70 percent shooting, joining Wilt Chamberlain (four times), David Thompson and Karl Malone. It was the third 60-point performance of the season, and it was every bit as impressive as Donovan Mitchell’s 71 points and Luka Doncic’s 60-point triple-double in his one-man comeback against the New York Knicks. Between the 6:42 mark of the third quarter and the 11:10 mark of the fourth, Lillard was the only Blazer to score. Fortunately for Portland, he gave them 20 straight points in that stretch.
For the game, Lillard came just shy of scoring half of Portland’s 124 total points. He made more than half of their 3-pointers, sinking nine of the 17 the Blazers made as a team, and he hit 60 percent of the team’s free throws, drilling nine of their 15 makes. His 21 field goals were more than the rest of Portland’s starting lineup made combined (18).
Lillard’s fourth 60-point game of his career moved him into a tie with Michael Jordan and James Harden. They trail only Kobe Bryant’s six and Wilt Chamberlain’s 32. Given the recent scoring exploits in the NBA, it would hard to imagine that this will be the last time he’ll achieve this feat.
It was one of the great individual performances of the season, and Portland’s history suggests that it needed virtually every single point to come away with the 134-124 victory. After all, it was only two weeks ago thata 50-point Lillard performance against Cleveland, which was the third 50-point loss of Lillard’s career. Five days later, they wasted a 44-point gem of his against Denver.
The Blazers still have the NBA’s 22nd-ranked defense, and their offense plummets by almost 13 points per 100 possessions whenever Lillard goes to the bench. If they need Lillard to score 60 just to survive a January dalliance with the Jazz, this team is probably in a fair bit of trouble moving forward.