Dame's Mind Games Work Again Versus Warriors

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

PORTLAND -- Damian Lillard doesn’t mind the double teams. Or the triple teams. Or the traps. Or being picked up full court. When he was younger, the level of attention he draws from opposing defenses on a nightly basis might have annoyed him, but at this point in his career, it actually has the opposite effect.

Despite being the focal point of Golden State’s defensive game plan for nearly 48 minutes, Lillard still managed to hit yet another deep, game-winning three-pointer, and then took a charge with four seconds to play, to lift the Trail Blazers to a 108-106 victory versus the Warriors Wednesday night at the Moda Center.

“Dame is undeterred,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously he didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he made the two plays of the game. He makes the big three and takes a charge. He’s a super competitor, never thinks he’s out of a game and always willing to put himself on the line to make the play at either end.”

The Trail Blazers are now 20-14 overall and 10-8 at the Moda Center this season. The win moves Portland into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference and secures the season series versus the Warriors.

While the Warriors have shown themselves to be one of the better teams when it comes sending double and triple teams at Lillard, just about every team in the league has opted to defend the 6-3 guard in his ninth season out of Weber State in a similar fashion, especially with CJ McCollum sidelined with a broken left foot. But while the goal is to force the ball out of his hands -- and often times it works with great effectiveness -- it also, somewhat ironically, gives Lillard an extra boost of confidence, even if the gambit works, as it did in the first half Wednesday night.

“When I’m out there, I feel how hard the defense is trying to stop me,” said Lillard, who went just 2-of-6 from the field in the first half. “When I see how alert and how active they are trying to stop me, it just lets me know that they concerned. They always concerned regardless of how well or how bad I’m shooting the ball.

“And for me it’s like, it’s even more of a mental thing for me when I’m like, even though they know I’m not hot, they still worried and I want to show them why they should be worried, why they should still be on edge.”

That concern given to Lillard usually results in his teammates getting cleaner looks than they would otherwise. Earlier in his career, Lillard might have forced the issue throughout the game rather than relying on his teammates to hold up their end, but these days, he knows there are times when the right decision is to defer.

That was the case for roughly the first 42 minutes of Wednesday night’s game. With Golden State’s defense selling out on Lillard, the likes of Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Covington all upped their number of attempts to take advantage of the opportunities afford to them.

“In a game like tonight where I don’t remember the last time I got trapped that hard and that consistent in every action, and the right play was just to get the ball out... If (Anthony) doesn’t have that type of night and (Jones Jr.) isn’t hitting shots and (Trent Jr.), if guys aren’t making shots to make them at least think about what’s happening once I get the ball out, we don’t win this game.”

And even then, they almost didn’t. After spending much of the game making the “right” play, as one of the NBA’s preeminent closers, Lillard transitioned to looking for his own shot late in the game.

With the game on the line in the fourth, Lillard scored almost as many points in the final five minutes (10) as he put up in the first three quarters (12). After finding the open man all night, Lillard put it on himself to bend the Warriors to his will.

“If they selling out, they trapping you and blitzing you like this, if you can still overcome it and find a way to be productive, to me, that challenge, that’s like the next step,” said Lillard. “When I was younger it would be like, frustrating, if I got off to a slow start, I might not ever get it going. But tonight I was just like ‘Alright, I’m gonna chase Steph (Curry) around, I’m gonna guard him the whole. I’m going to find a way to stay involved in the game and do something.’ Just that challenge, it picks me up. It gets me going.”

And ironically enough, after paying so much attention to Lillard throughout the game, the Warriors opted not to send a second defender at him with 14 seconds to play and with Portland trailing 106-105. With a clearer view of the basketball than he had at any point in time during Wednesday’s game, Lillard sized up Kent Bazemore, who saw had a front row seat to Lillard’s heroics last seasons during his short stint in Portland, and raised up for the what would be yet another game-winning three-pointer.

“In my mind I’m like, I want to show why they should have this level of urgency or fear or whatever you want to call it,” said Lillard. “It’s like, encouraging in those moments. Sometimes I come up short, sometimes they do good enough or the shots don’t go in, but in those moments, I’m just telling myself like, when they walk off the court, maybe they going to go back and be like ‘This is why we wanted y’all to do it. It happened to us.’ I want to do that to the opposing team.”

Lillard would then draw a charge on Green at the other end with 3.3 seconds to play, and while Robert Covington would be unable to make either free three to salt the game away, the Warriors never got a legitimate look at a potential buzzer-beater.

Lillard went 6-of-17 from the field for 22 points to go with six assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes. Anthony also had 22 points, albeit off the bench and on 8-of-13 shooting.

Robert Covington game one rebound short of a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds while also collecting three blocks, two steals and an assist in 38 minutes. Enes Kanter contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds and Gary Trent Jr. finished with 15 points.

Stephen Curry led all scorers with 35 points in 36 minutes. Wiggins finished with 14 and Bazemore added 12.

Next up, the Trail Blazers wrap up the first half of their 2020-21 schedule by hosting the Kings in the second game of a back-to-back. Tipoff is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m.


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