Lillard didn’t lose track of the shot clock. He didn’t go under the pick-and-roll on a shooter. He didn’t forget to bring the Krispy Kremes to practice.
He broke an unwritten NBA rule.
In the closing seconds of Portland’s 102-94 home win over Chicago, Lillard received a pass in the frontcourt. Instead of dribbling out the clock the way virtually all NBA games end, the fantastic first-year point guard took a dribble and went in for a dunk.
That brought a reaction from several Bulls players, who thought Lillard breached NBA etiquette. A handful of them approached him after the buzzer and supposedly set him straight, some shouting and pointing fingers. The crowd around Lillard swelled to the point where a few of his teammates felt the need to step in on his behalf.
“I just told him, ‘That’s not the right play, dawg,’” Bulls guard Nate Robinson told ESPNChicago. “‘Just dribble the ball out. You all have got the victory already,’ stuff like that.
“Everybody around the league watches that. That pisses people off. You’re losing already, then you’re going to finish it off with the dunk at the end. That’s how, you could say, flagrant fouls and things like that happen.”
There were some mitigating factors. Portland had seen an 11-point lead with 42 seconds left cut to 98-94 with 13 seconds to play by Chicago, which was trapping hard on the ball – actually forcing two turnovers – and committing quick fouls. And Lillard received the ball below the foul line, no more than 10 feet from the basket with defenders advancing.
(You could also argue that another mitigating factor was that the supposed voice of reason in this kerfluffle was coming from Robinson, who while with the New York Knicks started a fight with one teammate in the shower and threw a water bottle at another during a timeout. But I digress.)
“When I caught it, like I said, I didn’t know what to do, so that’s what I did,” Lillard told ESPNChicago. “It looked like they were running toward me still, so next time I just know to dribble it out. I didn’t mean no disrespect to them.”
With a six-point lead and scant seconds remaining, Lillard should have dribbled away from the basket, which would have been an immediate indicator to the nearby Bulls that it was time to stop playing hard.
I coach a little basketball and have been in this position more than a few times. When we have the ball, I call to the point guard and make a dribbling motion with my hand. I can only think of one occasion where the defense kept playing hard.
I turned to the opposing coach and said, “Really?” He then instructed his team to back off.
And while Lillard’s explanation given his position on the floor and tone of the game was understandable, I expect this won’t happen. Among the wonderful qualities he has shown in the season’s first month is that he is a very quick learner.
On to the rankings.