Damian Lillard was a game-time decision leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ dramatic 110-107 win Monday night at the Miami Heat.
But that was all word play. He was playing.
Lillard, who made the winning assist with a pass to Josh Hart who beat the buzzer with a corner three to win the game, had already missed four games with a right calf strain he suffered Oct. 26 during a loss to Miami at home. Over the weekend, Lillard sat out two games at Phoenix that he felt he could have played in.
“If they would have gave me the option, I think y’all know what I would have done,” Lillard said. “I didn’t see my uniform in the locker at all. I guess they didn’t want me to get any ideas.”
What “they” wanted was for Lillard, 32, to properly heal. So much so that before the game, coach Chauncey Billups said Lillard would play as long as he got through pregame warmups okay. Anfernee Simons, on the other hand, was good to go after missing both games at the Suns with foot inflammation.
Truthfully, there was probably no keeping Lillard out of this game. But clearly, the time off served him well.
“I felt good as far as like my calf, any discomfort,” he said. “You got to get used to moving around again.”
Lillard ended the game with 19 points on 4-of-12 shooting, added six assists and committed four of the team’s 19 turnovers. With his shot not on, Lillard managed to get to the free-throw line for nine shots and made eight of them.
Being off a bit was certainly understandable.
“There’s nothing you can do to simulate the pace of an NBA game and the physicality of it,” Lillard said. “And then to come back against a team like this, it’s not an easy team to come back against because they’re so physical.”
Lillard said he felt like the Heat approached him as if he were 100 percent, which was wise given that Lillard scored 22 points in 26 minutes against Miami in the previous game before injuring his calf in the third quarter.
“They played me with respect,” Lillard said. “They picked me up full court. Tried to deny me. They tried to be physical. They showed me bodies. So, it’s not like it’s a team that’s gonna come out and let me just have my way, easily.”
The Blazers (7-3) are 5-1 this season when Lillard starts and 5-0 when he finishes a game.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts