Los Angeles—Damian Lillard erupted for a career-high 71 points as the Portland Trail Blazers thrashed the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
In a breathtaking performance in front of a rapturous Portland crowd, Lillard etched his name into NBA folklore to drive the Blazers to a 131-114 victory.
It was the first time in Lillard’s glittering career that he has scored more than 70 points in a game, and the second time this season he has breached the 60-point barrier.
Only three other players in NBA history—Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant and David Thompson—have scored more points in a single game.
Chamberlain holds the record with 100 points, followed by Bryant’s mark of 81. Thompson scored 73 points for Denver against Detroit in 1978.
Lillard also threatened to beat Klay Thompson’s record of 14 three-pointers in a single game.
In the end however the 32-year-old seven-time NBA All-Star fell just short, draining 13 threes from 22 attempts.
Overall, Lillard made 22 of 38 from the field, including a perfect 14 of 14 from the free-throw line.
As the final buzzer sounded at Portland’s Moda Center, Lillard was mobbed by team-mates and showered with confetti in recognition of a superb performance that eclipsed his previous best single-game scoring performance of 61 points.
Afterwards, Lillard said he had simply been motivated by securing victory for Portland.
The Blazers are just outside of the play-in places with a 29-31 record in the Western Conference.
“I think we’ve got 22 or 23 games after this and we need to win as many as possible,” Lillard said.
“I know it’s a team effort but I feel like I’ve got to do my best to be aggressive and do what I can to make sure we get some wins.
“That’s what the case was tonight ±I wanted to be in attack mode, I got it going early on and I stayed aggressive.”
Lillard’s remarkable shooting performance saw him amass 41 points in the first half alone.
“I came out and saw it go in (the basket) a few times and I just stayed aggressive,” Lillard said. AFP
“I didn’t ease up or back off. The second half they came out and put a lot of attention on me but I just wanted to stay patient. I kept making the right plays.
“I was able to get a little run going again in the second half and it turned into how it was in the first half.”
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups was left awestruck by Lillard’s performance.
“We don’t get the chance to experience things like this a lot, and I’ve been around the league a long, long time,” Billups said. “71 points—that’s just incredible.”
Billups also paid tribute to Lillard’s discipline in not trying to force his scoring in the second half.
“Having 41 points at half-time was insane, and then he came out in the second half and in the third quarter he just made every right play,” Billups said.
“He just wasn’t forcing it at all. He just understood what they were going to come out and do. And that takes incredible discipline—to know not to force it. That was so impressive.
“I said to Dame during the game, ‘This could be one of those special nights’—but I didn’t know it could be this special.”
While Portland remain in the hunt for a postseason berth, the Rockets have the worst record in the NBA and are rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference with just 13 wins for the season against 47 defeats.