Lillard Reminds Little Of One Of The NBA's Most Important Tenets: 'Dunk On Him'

by Casey Holdahl
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HOUSTON -- Often times in sports or in life, mistakes can end up producing something spectacular. That was the case for Nassir Little in Friday night’s victory versus the Rockets in Houston.

The Trail Blazers were leading by 14 with less than 30 seconds to play in the first half of Friday’s victory, Portland’s first on the road this season, when Damian Lillard passed the ball to a streaking Little with every expectation that the third-year forward would finish the fastbreak with a layup at worse or a dunk at best. But instead of going up and/or over Houston guard Kevin Porter Jr., Little floated a lob pass to Larry Nance Jr., who was filling the lane to Little’s right.

But while Nance Jr. was able to secure the catch, he was unable to finish the layup, resulting in the Rockets getting the rebound and setting up a fastbreak of their own. Rather than Portland ending the half with an easy finish and a larger lead, the mistake opened the door for the Rockets to score the last four points of the half, cutting the lead to 10 going into the intermission.

“I just thought the defender was going to come to me but he didn’t,” said Little. “He did a good job of playing cat and mouse. I still think Larry had a chance to finish it, but it is what it is.”

While you generally want to encourage unselfish play, at this point in his maturation, Little is relied upon to provide finishing rather than table-setting in a fastbreak situation, something that Lillard was sure to remind him of at the first possible opportunity.

“I cussed his ass out in the first half when he tried to throw a lob when I threw it to him and it ended up being a turnover,” said Lillard. “I’m like ‘What are you doing? You’re not a lob thrower, I’ve never seem you throw a lob. Dude is under the basket, you running full speed, dunk on him, don’t do that shit no more.’ So I got on him and he was like ‘I got you.’”

And in the process, Little got a body.

Lillard once again found Little rim running on a fastbreak with 1:45 to play in the third quarter and with Portland leading 77-62. But this time, rather than floating a pass to Cody Zeller, who was in a similar position as Nance Jr. on the aforementioned unsuccessful attempt, Little elevated off two feet, going up and over the Alperen Sengun, a 6-10 rookie out of Turkey, to keep his word to Lillard by finishing an emphatic one-handed jam that is in the running for Portland’s best highlight thus far this season.

“Then the next time I had (Little) in transition, I saw him run down the court, I was kind like ‘Man, this dude might take the charge on Nas’ because I saw the play happening,” said Lillard. “But I threw it to him anyway. I noticed he tried to jump to the side of (Sengun) still but he still went over the top on him and the referees rewarded a good basketball play by not calling it. As soon as he did it, when he came up to me he was like ‘I told you I got you.’ That was the first thing he said, so it was just good to see him make that play.”

Little took the advice to heart rather than being stung by the criticism, and both he and the Trail Blazers were better for it.

“(Lillard) got on me, he let me have it so I had to make up for it some way,” said Little. “He’s like ‘I passed it to you for a reason, finish the play.’”

And for Little, the contrast in how the two plays ended was a reminder that there is such a thing as thinking too much. Usually mistakes are made due to a lack of forethought, but sometimes, and especially in sports, the opposite can be true.

“The issue is me thinking when I passed it,” said Little. “That’s the issue, you know what I’m saying? So when I got it (the second time) I didn’t think at all. That was the right move.”


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