Damian Lillard drops the mic on Jazz with a historically efficient 60-point game

PORTLAND — While scoring 60 points for the fourth time in his career during Wednesday’s 134-124 win over the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard made history for his efficiency.

Lillard needed just 29 shot attempts and 10 free throw attempts to score 60, putting him in elite company. Just two other players (Karl Malone with 26 in 1990, and James Harden with 24 in 2019) have reached 60 points on fewer shot attempts, but both scored a high percentage of their points at the foul line, taking 23 free throws apiece.

Meanwhile, only one player to score 60 (Rick Barry in 1974, with five) has done so with fewer than 10 free throw attempts. Because of those limited opportunities, Lillard posted the highest true shooting percentage — a measure of combined efficiency on shot attempts and free throws — ever in a 60-point game (.898).

“That was incredible, man,” said Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. “You don’t get to see that very often, to be that efficient. For a guy to score 60 points and only 10 free throws and make nine of them, you’re thinking either this dude has an absurd amount of 3s. It was just incredible how efficient he was.”

Indeed, Lillard made nine 3-pointers, tied for second most ever 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 60-point game.

Since he doesn’t typically check his phone until he leaves the arena, Lillard was unaware his 60-point night was historic until he was told about it by the media postgame.

“It’s the most efficient 60-point game ever, for real?” Lillard said. “That’s crazy. I didn’t know that. I’m just sitting here thinking I had a shot at the end of the shot clock from half court toward the end that I shot. It probably would have been a little bit better. I missed a free throw. Damn.”

The early stages of the game offered little indication Lillard would enter the record books. He had just nine points in the first quarter before heating up. Lillard scored 17 points in the second quarter and was at 30 for the game when he exploded late in the third period.

Starting with a layup at the 6:42 mark of the third, Lillard went on to score Portland’s final 20 points of the period, shooting 7-of-9 from the field in that span with three 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he was the third player this season to score 20 consecutive points for his team, as well as just the second to reach 50 points through three quarters. (Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns was the other.)

Remarkably, Billups had to be convinced to keep Lillard in the game during that stretch.

“I thought he was tired at the end of the third and he was so hot,” Billups said. “I came into the timeout and I said, ‘How are you feeling? I really wanted to get you out here for the last two minutes.’ GP (Gary Payton II) and everybody was like, ‘No, let him go!’ I said, man, this could be a good game at the end. I don’t want to have him tired because he got 45, 50. He said, ‘I’m good, I’m good.’ I’ve got to trust guys in those moments.”

Despite Lillard’s heroics, the Jazz managed to remain within striking distance, allowing Lillard to return to the game and approach his career high of 62 points. He reached 60 for the fourth time in his career on a pair of free throws with 1:37 remaining, but did not attempt a shot on the Blazers’ next two possessions. That’s when Billups reminded him of the stakes.

“That’s the only reason I kept him in the game,” Billups said. “I would have got him out. I told him when I pulled him over, I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’ We’re running the same play. I’m trying to get you your career high. He looked at me and said, ‘OK, I’ll get it.’ Bro, I would have got you out and got you the standing O you deserved. That just speaks to who he is. He wasn’t even thinking about that.”

On the ensuing Portland trip downcourt, Lillard shot a deep 3-pointer before Utah could double-team him, but it missed. With mere seconds on the clock when the Blazers reclaimed possession, Lillard conceded the chase.

“There was still time on the clock, but I wasn’t going to be that thirsty to come back down with that much time left in the game just to get a career high,” he explained. “I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do, so that was how it ended.”

Lillard tied for the second-most points in the NBA this season. Donovan Mitchell had 71 in an overtime game for Cleveland against Chicago on Jan. 3, and Luka Doncic scored 60 in Dallas’ OT victory over New York on Dec. 27.

As just 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. To him, Wednesday’s game stood out for its simplicity.

“It was pretty simple,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was easy because they had some big bodies and some long defenders out there, but I think usually I get into a groove where I’m just going without making those simple plays, that teams start to come after me soon.

“I was kicking it ahead, I was swinging it, so it didn’t feel like they came after me until the very end. That’s why it seemed like the most simple one of all of them.”

Although Lillard is now the third-oldest player to score 60 points at age 32, according to ESPN Stats & Information, he’s got a chance to continue adding to his total. Already, he was impressed by the rare company he joined Wednesday.

“I ain’t catching Wilt,” Lillard said. “That’s out. Dang, that’s cool.”

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