MILWAUKEE — As the season approached the mid-way point, Damian Lillard’s Milwaukee Bucks teammates had a gripe with their new All-Star point guard: There was not enough wrist tapping. Late on Sunday night, they finally got their wish. Not only did they get to see Lillard’s iconic celebration, they got to join in on the fun as “Dame Time” officially arrived in Milwaukee.
“I kept telling them,” Lillard said. “I do it when it’s necessary. Tonight, it was necessary.”
With 5.2 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bucks trailed by two and had a chance to go for the tie or the win. Lillard chose the latter. After inbounding the ball to Brook Lopez, he took a handoff from the big man near half-court, dribbled four times and side-stepped into a 30-footer.
Ball game. Bucks 143, Sacramento Kings 142.
DAME TIME IN MILWAUKEE ‼️ 🤯
DAME LILLARD DRILLS THE PULL-UP 32-FOOT #TissotBuzzerBeater 🚨
BUCKS WIN 143-142 IN OT. #YourTimeDefinesYourGreatness pic.twitter.com/BptPMrcjcI
— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2024
Fiserv Forum erupted, players on both teams put their hands on their heads in disbelief and Lillard was mobbed by his overenthusiastic teammates.
“When I saw the clip of it, [Giannis] started tapping his wrist when he was running towards me, and then he almost choked me out,” Lillard explained.
“I think I grabbed him, but I grabbed him hard,” Antetokounmpo confessed. “I don’t know if I was suffocating him. I was grabbing him really hard. I was doing [Lillard’s “Dame Time” wrist tap] and [Lillard’s wave]. I went out of character.”
To get to Lillard’s heroics, you first have to go back to the unlikely sequence of events that brought him and the Bucks to that point. After blowing a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucks trailed by six almost immediately in overtime, battled back to take the lead, then fell behind again by four with 30 seconds to play.
When Lillard missed something of a desperation attempt on the ensuing possession, it seemed like that would be a wrap. Instead, Malik Monk, an 87.5% free throw shooter, missed both foul shots, which won fans free chicken and gave the Bucks a lifeline. Brook Lopez seized it by draining a 3-point shot from the corner to cut the deficit to one. Again the Bucks fouled, and, again, the Kings couldn’t get it done at the line. This time, De’Aaron Fox made one of two, which opened the door for the Bucks to steal the game back.
Ironically, Lillard had been having a tough night. He had already missed two 3s in the final minute of overtime, and finished the game 9-of-23 from the field and 5-of-13 from behind the arc. Yet, there was never a doubt that he was getting the ball in that situation, nor was there any doubt that the ball was going in once it left his hand.
“I was in the corner, just in case, ready to go,” Malik Beasley said. “And I saw him slow down, actually, with five seconds to go, so I was like, ‘OK, this is definitely Dame Time.’ And it was Dame Time. And the rest is history.”
Lillard’s ability to play at his own pace in a situation where everyone else would be trying to go as quickly as possible played a key role in the shot. As did his comfort in letting it fly from well beyond the arc, and the space he was able to create with a side-step. Add it all up and you have a remarkable feat of athleticism and coordination.
At least to everyone besides Lillard.
“For me, I train and work on these type of things, so when I do it, it doesn’t feel as difficult as it looks,” Lillard said. “When I see it, it does look really difficult, but I’ve got a lot of reps at shots like that. So when it looks a certain way to the person that’s watching, it doesn’t feel that way to me.”
Count Antetokounmpo among the people watching.
“This was the toughest shot I’ve ever seen anybody make to win a game up close,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was tough.”