SALT LAKE CITY — As the final shots ticked down in Saturday’s 3-point contest for Damian Lillard, he thought he had to make them to tie Buddy Hield in order to win it.
Then, when he looked up at the video board after knocking down his final few shots, he saw his score — 26 — was one point ahead of Hield, who had 25.
“As I got down the stretch of those last two racks, I was, like, counting,” Lillard said with a smile. “I knew I had to make all of them, but I thought I was on track to tie him. I actually lost count. But I knew I needed to make all of them. Then when I looked up, I was, like, oh , that’s 26.”
Lillard, who is known for his penchant for making clutch, game-winning shots late in games, was pleased this happened in the same fashion.
“It’s ironic that it came down to that, and I had to tighten up and come up big at the end. But, like you said, that’s typical. That’s typical for me.”
Lillard, one of five All-Stars in the competition — along with Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, New York Knicks forward Julius Randle and Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen — placed second behind Haliburton, and ahead of Hield , through the first round.
That put Lillard in position to follow through on a pledge he delivered to his competitors in the locker room before it began: That he would be the one going home victorious.
“I think this was a goal of mine [to win] because I think, as a shooter, anytime you come into a competition like this you want to win it,” Lillard said. “I had done it two times before this, and I didn’t take it seriously enough. As a shooter, I wanted to win at least one time before I was done playing, and that’s why I took this one a little more seriously.”
As part of those preparations, Lillard — who spent four years starring at Weber State, located about a half an hour’s drive north of downtown Salt Lake City — wore his college jersey with his NBA number, 0, as well as nickname, ” Dolla,” on the back.
He said it was special for him to get the chance to compete in a place where he had spent so much time, and to honor his college days at the same time.
“I feel like everything just lined up,” Lillard said. “Being back here, I went to school here. I was here four years. A lot of family, a lot of friends here. People that I’m still in touch with.
“You know, when I touch down here in the summer, whether I’m going back for an alumni game or just going to train, or this time, I feel the love. I know that I’m welcome here. It’s a second home for me.”
“Sometimes, that’s what it takes for an experience to be what it’s supposed to be,” he said. “I feel like this is how it was supposed to happen. I’m happy that it happened here.”
At one point during Lillard’s news conference, Hield — who had won this competition in Chicago in 2020 — shouted in at Lillard, good-naturedly giving him a hard time over edging him out.
Lillard, however, didn’t miss a beat, saying that Hield “had his chance” to beat him.
Haliburton’s 31 points in the first round was the highest total anyone posted in the event this year. But a slow start in the championship round doomed him to finish well behind both Lillard and Hield. Still, Haliburton — a first-time All-Star this year — vowed to return to the competition next year, when it is in Indianapolis.
“Unfortunately, I choked in the last round, but, you know, things happen,” Haliburton said. “I’ll be back next year.”
Haliburton, Lillard and Hield outpaced Markkanen (20 points), Tatum (20 points), Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (18 points), Randle (13 points) and Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Huerter (8 points) to advance to the championship round.