Oregon Sports News Staff
Damian Lillard spent 11 years with the Portland Trail Blazers.
That’s 11 years making a franchise better than it was before he arrived. Eleven years giving everything he had to the city that drafted him. And 11 years devoted to a fanbase that was desperate for better days back in 2012.
In honor of Lillard’s return to Moda and the 11 years Portland thrived during its Dame Era, here are 11 unforgettable Lillard memories, broken down by Oregon Sports News’ Bryant Knox and Casey Mabbott.
1. October 31, 2012: Career Game 1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
In one of Dame’s literal first possessions as a Trail Blazer, he brought the ball down the floor, accepted a screen at the three-point elbow, then launched a step back for the first bucket of his career.
It was a deep three-pointer…because, of course, it was.
Three minutes and 18 seconds into Damian Lillard’s career, Portland got a glimpse of what its new point guard was really about.
In hindsight, the foreshadowing is obvious. We saw that exact play take place over and over again. And over again throughout the years.
But really, it was the whole Game 1 debut that put Lillard on the map back in 2012. Not only did Dame finish with 23 points and 11 assists, but he helped take down the latest Los Angeles Super Lakers—a team that was “all in” on names like Steve Nash and Dwight Howard for a championship-or-bust season.
All in all—and in all honesty—Lillard’s showdown with Kobe Bryant later that year may be the more memorable game of the two, pound for pound. But Game 1 of Dame’s career will always have extra sentimental value.
You can decide for yourself which of the meetings is more meaningful 11 years later.
See the video below and hit the comments with your take.
2. December 16, 2012: The Game-Winner That Started It All, vs. New Orleans Hornets
As of today, Damian Lillard is the proud owner of four game-winning NBA shots.
That’s according to BetMGM. (And it’s, uh, maybe a bit light??).
Here are the facts: No matter how many game-winning shots Lillard has hit to this point, or no matter how you define it, there’s one thing that’s unquestioned since his first season—it all began against New Orleans.
That shot on December 16, 2012, was cold, and it let fans know that if you’re not already on board, you don’t have much time to join the hype train.
(Shoutout to Mike Barrett and Mike Rice on the call. Miss you guys.)
3. December 2013: Back-To-Back Game Winners vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons
I’ll let the video talk for these shots.
The difference between Portland’s broadcasters watching Lillard’s game-winner and Cleveland getting its hearts torn out is borderline classic.
4. May 2, 2014: ‘The Shot’ vs. Houston Rockets
You remember we were watching the Rockets most likely force a Game 7 in Houston despite a masterful performance from the Trail Blazers. Everyone was doing their part, but it just felt like it wouldn’t be enough. We would be waiting another year, at least, until we would see Portland win a playoff series.
Instead, Lillard launched what would become one of his career-defining long-distance shots, and when the shot hit home, the whole city cheered with everything it had.
The new kid had become their new hero in the time it took for a shot to hit the net—less than a second. Just like that, the stage was set for many more years of greatness.
5. February 20, 2016: The 50-Burger vs. Golden State Warriors
Truth be told, this game might not ring the same type of bell that, say, “The Shot” vs. Houston does. That’s understandable.
This game, however, was yet another mile marker for Lillard, with the league taking notice during the first half of his career.
Following a game in which Lillard dropped a cool 51 points against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the quotes summed it up: “It’s a great feeling,” said Lillard, per ESPN. “Especially against the best team in the league. I haven’t scored 50 since ninth grade.”
This dude has been doing this since ninth grade!?
Well, if you didn’t already know, now you know. And to take it a step further, Steve Kerr added: “He was phenomenal. He looked like Steph Curry out there.”
What else is there to say? Lillard was already proving to be that guy three-and-a-half years into his career.
6. 2016 Postseason Run
LaMarcus Aldridge was in San Antonio. Wesley Matthews was in Dallas. Robin Lopez was in New York. Nic Batum was in Charlotte.
That left Lillard as the lone remaining starter from the 2014 playoff run. It was a full-scale rebuild.
Except, no…it wasn’t.
Despite a slow start, Portland fought its way to a playoff berth, and with a little help from lady luck, it managed to win its first playoff series.
This wasn’t a rebuild; this was a reload. Because with Lillard on the roster, you are never truly rebuilding.
Anyone who wasn’t shocked to see Portland in the playoffs and winning a playoff series is kidding. They were definitely shocked.
This team was supposed to be in the lottery, not making fans feel like they won the lottery.
7. April 23, 2019: ‘The Wave’ vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Just a month prior, OKC had come to Portland and beaten the Trail Blazers in OT, and Jusuf Nurkic was lost for the season shortly after.
The star power of Russell Westbrook and Paul George seemed like a lot, but Portland handled them with room to spare.
Like the 2014 series winner, it was Lillard with the ball as the clock ticked away. Only this time, no one was surprised to see him take the shot. Lillard shot from deeeeep in the corner, flirting with the half-court line. Paul George tried to defend him, but that’s the thing about fate—it’s not something you can fight.
Lillard was born to make big shots. And George was born to be on the receiving end of greatness…not the one being great.
8. May 2019: Making The Western Conference Finals
Portland had not made the WCF in 19 years, and this just didn’t feel like it would be the year they finally got back. Nurkic was hurt; they would throw a backup center against Nikola Jokic, and their roster was mostly a ragtag bunch of guys who would be lucky to start somewhere else. But it worked.
Portland defeated Denver in a classic seven-game series. But it was more than that.
Portland lost game one, then won game two. Then, the Blazers took game three in OT to steal the series lead before Denver won back-to-back games.
With Lillard playing hurt, it would be tough for him to lead the team to victory, but he did more than enough to help CJ push Portland to their first appearance in the Conference Finals since the 2000 playoffs.
This moment where Lillard enters the tunnel has since become one of the most famous, wholesome moments in Trail Blazers’ history.
9. August 2020: The Unlikely, Improbable, Damn Near Impossible Bubble Run
If not for a global pandemic, I’m not convinced Portland will make the playoffs in 2020. They were this close to being mathematically eliminated before the play-in tournament began, and to get in, they would need a ton of help.
They were 29-37 going into the bubble, but two 40-point games, one 50-point game, and one 60-point game from Lillard, along with some big help from his friends, were enough to propel Portland into the play-in game. They needed another bold performance to beat Memphis, and Lillard was there for them yet again, scoring 30+ and recording double-digit assists in the victory.
The win pitted them against the Lakers and their first playoff game in August.
Lillard once again scored a bunch of points and led Portland to victory in game one, and while that was the first and only playoff game they won in the bubble, it didn’t make it any less epic to witness.
10. February 26, 2023: 71 Points In One of His Last Games As A Blazer
In his 11th season with the Trail Blazers, Lillard scored 71 points in a single game. The masterclass vs. Houston was an obvious franchise high, and it made him just the eighth player in league history at the time to eclipse the 70-point mark.
What fans didn’t realize at the time was that this would be one of Lillard’s last moments at Moda in a Blazers jersey.
Lillard shot an unreal 13-of-22 from three and went a perfect 14-of-14 from the line, and as it turned out, he’d only play 11 more games for Portland before Dame Time ran out.
If there was ever a lasting image to leave, this is one of the more ideal.
Damian gave it everything he had every step of the way.
11. Everything Dame Did For The Community
I’ll start by saying this—the guy made you want to be a better person.
A better basketball player, sure, but more than that, Lillard walked the walk of being a really great human being.
From his love for the city to his devotion to the fans, his charity work, his basketball camps, and his private life as a dad, friend, and devoted family member—Lillard has had it all figured out.
He would be one of the best basketball players on the planet when he was at the office, and when he stepped off the court, he would be one of the best people on the planet.
Lillard was not just a great guy; he was the hero we needed. He set the example of what to do whether you were three years old or thirty.
Role models like Lillard don’t come around often. He’s more than a generational talent.
He’s a generational friend.
Honorable Mention January 7, 2014: The First 40-Piece, vs. Sacramento Kings
It’s tough to sneak Dame’s first 40-point game into the top 11 memories, but it’s also a game that was impossible to ignore at the time and remains the same today.
“That’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Kings Center DeMarcus Cousins said, per ESPN. “I could not wait until the end. I don’t ever want to be in a situation with the ball in Damian Lillard’s hands. I’m glad we got the win, but that was a scary thing.”
As the league would soon find out in a real way, the ball in Lillard’s hands with the game on the line is, in fact, terrifying for those wearing the wrong jersey. In that game against Sacramento, Lillard scored 26 points in the fourth quarter alone to record a career-best 41 in 38 minutes. Portland ultimately fell to Sacramento, 123-119, but the NBA left that game on notice of what was yet to come.