Unless you live under a rock on the moon, you’re aware that on Friday night Damian Lillard hit a monstrous three-pointer as the buzzer sounded on Game 6 of the Blazers’ now completed first round series with the Houston Rockets.
It was the kind of shot that turned 20,000 Portlanders into a bunch of screaming, hysterical children. It was the kind of moment that made at least one credentialed media member completely abandon protocol and stand up screaming with both fists clenched looking for some other staid journo to wrap in a bear hug.
It was a basket that Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick called the most important shot in the history of the Trail Blazers franchise.
Lillard’s three sent the Blazers to the second round for the first time in 14 years. It was pretty special, and the lucky few who made it to the Moda Center will be talking about it long after this season eventually ends.
Blazer fans—those on hand, those watching at home or somewhere else—no doubt celebrated long into Friday night. What didn’t take long, though, was for the most recent incredible Blazer moment to be compared incredible Blazer moment.
To set the scene some, that comparable moment came in fall 2008. In only Portland’s second home game of the season, the Houston Rockets came to town.
That game, like the first two of the recent Blazers/Rockets playoff games played at the Moda Center, went to overtime. At the end of overtime, the Blazers pulled off a stop and corralled a defensive rebound. Head coach Nate McMillan decided against a timeout. All-star shooting guard Brandon Roy pushed the ball up court, made an elegant pirouette that sent Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady careening to the floor, pulled up and drained a two point basket to put the home team on top with 1.9 seconds to play.
On the next Houston possession, all 7-feet-6-inches of Yao Ming hit a casual turn-around jumper from the baseline just as Brandon Roy, the hero from seconds before, showed on a hard double-team and slapped him square on the wrist. Yao stepped to the free throw line, drilled the go-ahead free throw, and the Rose Garden turned into a mausoleum.
Timed remained, though—eight-tenths of a second to be exact. On Portland’s possession, Steve Blake inbounded to Roy who caught the ball about 30 feet from the hoop and heaved up an improbably high-arching rainbow three. In went through cleanly, the RG erupted and Brandon Roy redeemed himself.
That’s an intentionally lengthy description of a series of plays no Blazer fan will ever forget. But it’s also a play that, though replayed literally thousands of times while Brandon Roy was still a Blazer, has been conspicuously absent from Blazer related nostalgia this season. That is, until now.
LaMarcus Aldridge brought up Brandon’s game winner in his post-game press conference, not half an hour after he accomplished something in one playoff series with Lillard that he was unable to accomplish in three playoff series with Roy. Twitter got to it before Aldridge could. Quick’s article about the best shots in franchise history name-checks Roy’s 30-footer, before dismissing it from contention because it happened in the regular season and didn’t win a playoff series or anything like that.
The comparisons are fair. Brandon’s game winner and Damian’s game winner were eerily similar: time of play, opponent, area of the court, score, the circumstances of the previous play.
What seems unfair on some level is the direct comparison between Lillard, possibly forever branded the “new Brandon Roy,” and the original Brandon Roy. It’s a fitting comparison, since Blazer fans have needed a new Brandon Roy ever since the old Roy’s knees quit on him and the team that drafted him told him to pack up his $48 million dollar guaranteed contract and find something else to do with his free time.
But they’re different players, accomplishing different things, and doing it in different ways. From a basketball standpoint, Roy was a slow and methodical slasher and mid-range shooter, who feasted on body contact at the rim and creating space for his jumper with a step-back or a side step. Lillard is a dead-eye from three with sneaky athleticism and confidence to shoot the ball from anywhere in the building.
From the franchise angle, Roy was the savior, brought in when the Blazers were in the toilet and the future of the team was in serious jeopardy to turn everything around. Lillard was, and is, a mid-story restart. He’s a second act climax following the falling action of the lockout Blazers, a group of mixed parts tasked with holding together the shaky construction of a newly rebuilt franchise not interested in a second trip to the basement.
And from a purely human bent, Roy and Lillard are different people. It’s unfair to hold Damian Lillard to the standards created by Roy. And it’s unfair to Brandon Roy’s legacy to try and replace all the great things he did with equally (or more) great things done by Lillard.
In the middle of a timeout break during the first playoff game played in Portland since Roy stopped being a Blazer, Roy’s fateful game-winner over the Rockets was played over the JumboTron as the lead-in for an advertisement for Great Clips (great clips from Blazer history; get it?).
The reaction from the home crowd to watching their former hero crush the dreams of their newest hero’s current opponent—again, a clip no real Blazer fan has watched less than 1,000 times—was lukewarm. Possibly because Brandon Roy highlights haven’t been a part of this season’s celebration of great Blazer seasons of the past, and the fans weren't prepared for it. Or possibly because the Moda Center crowd wasn’t ready to celebrate anything until the 2013-14 Blazers had won a playoff game on their own court.
Either way, there’s a sense that maybe the organization is ready to once again acknowledge Brandon Roy. They just haven't quite decided how to do it. Aldridge brought him up in his press conference unprompted. That, in and of itself, counts as news in Blazer-land.
Blazer fans are ready for some Brandon Roy recognition. They’ve been ready for it since the day he retired, his aborted Minnesota Timberwolves comeback notwithstanding. It’s on the organization to make it happen and to do it in a way that feels right.
But here’s the wrong way to do it: Don’t try to replace Brandon Roy with Damian Lillard. Let Damian be Damian. Let his accomplishments be his own. And let Brandon be Brandon. Before any Blazer fan had ever heard the name Damian Lillard, Brandon Roy made us all feel at least once or twice what Damian made us feel Friday night: Happy to be Blazer fans.
Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard never shared the court as Blazers, but that doesn’t mean that this city—Rip City, even—doesn’t have room for both of them. Now it’s on the Blazers to find a way to make Brandon Roy an actual part of what is shaping up to be an incredible post season run.