With less than a second left on the game clock, Damian Lillard
rises to his right and fires a three.
Not just a three, but a deep three from the right wing. And not
just a deep three from the right wing; it's a three so deep, over
the outstretched arms of a hopeless defender, that you immediately
think: "How on earth is he so comfortable taking that
Naturally, it goes in without speaking to the rim, much less
hitting it. The crowd goes crazy. The opposing team walks off the
floor, demoralized. Lillard has the facial expression of someone
who's been told the same joke three times in a row.
Some might even consider the shot a bad one,
but is there a bad shot
when it comes to Lillard?
That was the question immediately following his 37-foot playoff
series-ender against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019. And while
Monday night's win against the Los Angeles Lakers doesn't sniff
those stakes, it was a question worth asking again as Lillard
drilled a fading triple from the "M" in Moda Center to close the
Not only was that Lillard's second made three to that point, it
was the 10th make of the night from the Blazers. They'd go on to
make seven more in the second, giving them 17 first-half triples on
The Lakers simply couldn't match that firepower. The Blazers had
more points via three-pointers (51) than LA scored all half (46).
You're not winning when the math is that far on the opponent's
When asked about the splash-happy first half, Lakers head coach
Darvin Ham gave a proverbial hat tip to the Blazers, citing shot
"We checked the analytical data at halftime," Ham began. "And
according to that data, our defensive shot quality would've been
No. 1 in the league because they were contested."
"They moved the ball on some of them. Some of them [were open]
by design, with certain guys we shifted more off the ball. But
credit to them, they made shots tonight. Seventeen threes in a
half, that's incredible."
Naturally, if you're watching your favorite team's opponent burn
the nets against you, one of the last things you want to hear is a
variation of, "We were okay with what we gave up." But honestly, a
review of the film and the numbers back that up.
Of the 17 threes made in the first half from the Blazers, eight
of them were of the catch-and-shoot variety. Of those eight, four
of them were made by Matisse Thybulle (2) and Trendon Watford (2).
The other four were spread out between Lillard (2), Anfernee Simons
(1) and Shaedon Sharpe (1).
We'll start with the Lillard-Simons-Sharpe triumvirate first.
Lillard and Simons are generally treated like red-alert threats on
the perimeter; Sharpe doesn't quite get that attention, but he
certainly doesn't get "gapped" off the ball like a traditional
Simons and Sharpe were the "bad" ones the Lakers gave up. The
defense was tilted elsewhere, opening a pure catch-and-shoot
opportunity for Simons and a clean look after a corner lift for
Lillard, on the other hand, is where you shake your head as an
opposing coach. On the first, Lillard acts as a trailer in
transition, promptly draining a shot from nearly 30 feet. On the
second, Lillard kicks off the chain with Chicago action — a pindown
into a dribble handoff — before dishing, relocating and bombing
away over a recovering Austin Reaves from 31 feet.
I feel for Reaves on both clips. He's trying to match up with
Lillard in transition while directing traffic. Nobody picks up
Simons, so he finds himself toggling between
him and Lillard before the shot. And on the
Chicago action clip, Reaves is busting his butt trying to navigate
the screen and the handoff while staying
attached. All things considered, he did pretty well. It just didn't
The Watford and Thybulle threes were pretty blatant gameplan
calls. The Lakers simply did not care if either of them took shots
from the perimeter. That's been true for the entirety of Thybulle's
career; he's a 32.9% shooter from deep overall, and is only
slightly better (34.4%) from the corners.
Watford hasn't shot nearly enough on the NBA level to shift the
gameplan on him. He was shooting nearly 46% from three heading into
Monday night's contest, but was
averaging under one attempt per contest. When
you include last night's 2-for-2 performance, Watford is 25-of-71
(35.2%) from three in 89 career games.
Defenses will continue to live with those.
Eight of the other nine makes, including the aforementioned hail
mary to cap the first quarter, came off some sort of movement.
There was a handoff triple from forward Nassir Little. Not only
is he a career 34.1% shooter from deep, but Little has only taken
18 threes off a DHO in his four-year NBA career, per
InStat tracking data. There's a reason he received "under" coverage
on the handoff.
Beyond that, the Lillard-Simons-Sharpe trio just went nuts off
the bounce. Pull-ups, stepbacks — you name it, they did it. The
starting backcourt specifically got busy in ball-screens, pulling
up above the break with the space that was given.
There wasn't a ton of space to operate with. Anthony Davis
wasn't quite at the level of the screen, but he was a step or two
higher up than your traditional deep drop. It probably would've
been worth getting all the way up to the level.
Davis is still working his way back to the All-Defense form we
saw earlier in the year, and deserves a little grace. We've
probably, collectively, undersold just how much he has working
against him, as well as the probability that he's still playing
through stuff. But even with that context, that's probably the
fairest criticism to levy towards Ham's defensive game plan in the
And then there was this from Lillard, which... what the heck do
you do with this?
As for the actual numbers, they're pretty daunting.
Converting over 58% of your threes in a half is absurd on its
own. On the type of threes the Blazers took, and considering who
took them, their quantified shot quality (qSQ) was 50.61 — a mark
that would rank first in the NBA across an entire season (a full
point below the Miami Heat's mark of 51.87), per Second
Instead, they had an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of
87.93%. Doing the simple math, that's an overperformance of
There have been 81 instances of a team taking at least 25 threes
in the first half of a game this season. Nobody has outperformed
the quality of their looks to the degree the Blazers did last
When filtering for the first or second half,
that plus-37.32% mark ranks second in the NBA. The top spot belongs
to the Golden State Warriors (38.83% above expectation), with the
Thunder serving as their victims last Monday.