PORTLAND — Scoring 60 points for the fourth time in his career in Wednesday’s 134-124 win over the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard made history with his efficiency.
Lillard needed just 29 shot attempts and 10 free throw attempts to score 60, putting him in elite company. Only two other players (Karl Malone with 26 in 1990 and James Harden with 24 in 2019) reached 60 points in fewer shot attempts, but both scored a high percentage of their points from the foul line, making 23 shots francs each.
Meanwhile, only one player to score 60 (Rick Barry in 1974, with five) did so with fewer than 10 free throw attempts. Because of those limited opportunities, Lillard posted the highest true shooting percentage — a measure of the combined effectiveness of shot attempts and free throws — ever in a 60-point game (.898).
“It was amazing, man,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “You don’t see that very often, to be that effective. For a guy to score 60 points and only 10 free throws and make nine, you either think that guy has an absurd number of 3s. That was all just amazing how effective he was.”
Indeed, Lillard made nine 3-pointers, tied for second in a 60-point game behind his own total of 11 in January 2020. He shot 72% overall from the field (21 of 29), sixth-best in a Game at 60 points.
Since he usually doesn’t check his phone until he leaves the arena, Lillard was unaware that his 60-point night was historic until he heard about it from the media after the game.
“Is this the most efficient 60-point game of all time, for real?” said Lillard. “It’s crazy. I didn’t know that. I’m just sitting here thinking I had a shot at the end of the half-court shot clock towards the end that I shot. It probably would have been a bit better. I missed a free throw.
The early stages of the game offered little indication that Lillard would enter the record books. He had just nine points in the first quarter before warming up. Lillard scored 17 points in the second quarter and was down to 30 for the game when he exploded late in the third period.
Starting with a layup at 6:42 of the third, Lillard then scored Portland’s final 20 points of the period, shooting 7 of 9 from the field in that period with three 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he was the third player this season to score 20 straight points for his team, as well as the second to reach 50 points in three quarters. (The Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker was the other.)
Remarkably, Billups had to be convinced to keep Lillard in the game during this streak.
“I thought he was tired at the end of the third and he was so hot,” Billups said. “I walked into time out and said, ‘How do you feel? I really wanted to get you out here for the last two minutes. GP (Gary Payton II) and everyone was like, “No, let him go!” I said, man, this could be a good game in the end. I don’t want him to be tired because he did 45, 50. He said, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” I have to trust the guys in those times.”
Despite Lillard’s heroism, the Jazz managed to stay within striking distance, allowing Lillard to get back into the game and approach his career high of 62 points. He hit 60 for the fourth time in his career on a pair of free throws with 1:37 remaining, but didn’t attempt to shoot on the Blazers’ next two possessions. It was then that Billups reminded him of the stakes.
“That’s the only reason I kept him in the game,” Billups said. “I would have taken him out. I told him when I stopped him, I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’ We play the same game I’m trying to get you up your career He looked at me and said ‘OK I’ll make it happen Bro I would’ve got you out and got you the O position that you deserved. It just shows who he is. He wasn’t even thinking about it.
On the ensuing Portland trip, Lillard fired a deep 3-pointer before Utah could double him, but he missed. With seconds on the clock when the Blazers regained possession, Lillard conceded the chase.
“There was still time on the clock, but I wasn’t going to be so thirsty to come back down with so much time left in the game just to hit a career high,” he explained. “I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do, so that’s how it ended.”
Lillard is tied for the second most points in the NBA this season. Donovan Mitchell scored 71 in an overtime game for Cleveland against Chicago on Jan. 3, and Luka Doncic scored 60 in Dallas’ overtime win over New York on Dec. 27.
As the fifth player in NBA history to score 60 points at least four times, joining a group that includes Wilt Chamberlain (32), Kobe Bryant (6), James Harden and Michael Jordan (4 each), Lillard is in the rare position of being able to compare such performances. For him, Wednesday’s match stood out for its simplicity.
“It was pretty simple,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was easy because they had big bodies and long defenders, but I think usually I get into a rhythm where I just go without making these simple plays, which the teams start coming after me sooner.
“I was throwing it forward, I was swinging it, so I didn’t feel like they were chasing me to the very end. That’s why it felt like the easiest of all.”
Although Lillard is now the third-oldest player to score 60 points at 32, according to ESPN Stats & Information, he has a chance to keep adding to his total. Already he was impressed with the rare company he joined on Wednesday.
“I won’t catch Wilt,” Lillard said. “It’s out. Dang, that’s cool.”