The overwhelming cheers for Damian Lillard stopped midway through the fourth quarter. It was the strongest compliment of the night for the Portland rookie in Utah's 86-77 win over the Trail Blazers.
With shot after shot in the second half, the Oakland product who made his name as Weber State's biggest star sliced and diced his way through the Jazz defense. He scored a game-high 26 points and pulled his team close enough down the stretch that Utah fans were more than nervous. The friendly cheering came to a halt.
Lillard's initial return to Utah to face a Jazz team that coveted him in last summer's NBA Draft didn't disappoint. He scored 20 of those points in the second half. He carried his team in large stretches and led a Portland comeback that was thwarted by Utah in the final moments.
"It just felt like a welcome home," Lillard said. "People I have been around for the last four years, coming to support me even though all of them are probably longtime Jazz fans. For them to cheer that loud when I came out, it meant a lot."
For a half, it looked like Utah would defend him perfectly over 48 minutes. Lillard, the sixth pick of the 2012 draft, had six points on 3-for-10 shooting.
He wasn't setting his teammates up, and it looked as if the only drama of the night would be a guessing game on how much the Jazz's margin of victory would be.
Damian Lillard puts a scare into Utah Jazz
Salt Lake Tribune | Feb 2