After his first game against the greatest point guard of his generation, back in 2012, Damian Lillad said of Chris Paul, “I see the world in his eyes.” For the uninitiated, Lillard was referring to the the beauty and excellence of a point guard’s sight and how Paul viewed the action on the floor and how he created more action and organized everything. Five days into his professional career. it was a priceless learning experience for Damian Lillard and he had a good showing for a rookie. He played nine more minutes than Chris Paul but had five fewer points, one less assist, and his team lost by 13.
More impressive was Lillard’s ability to sum up exactly who and what the Blazers were in November of 2012. The Clippers had established a 25 point lead and then the Blazers stormed back but couldn’t get close enough to turn the tide.
Lillard said, “We can’t put ourselves in that hole because we’re not that level of team to be able to fight back every time.”
Lillard’s clear assessment of the Blazers, coupled with his ability to say so, elevated him to a leadership level and he had yet to finish his first week as a NBA player.
Chris Paul was impressed by what he saw from Lillard during the game. Paul, before he is anything, is the center object of the point guard fraternity. Every new talent to come in he encourages and mentors, even while they are playing against each other.
“He can play. Portland better hold on to him because they definitely have a prized possession for the future.” (Chris Paul on Damian Lillard).
It was as Lillard said, Chris Paul seeing the world in his eyes, the Damian Lillard world.
The two point guards have matched up 12 times and Lillard has come out the short end, 3 wins, 9 losses. His team has never been as complete, both offensively and defensively, as the Clippers, and frankly, Chris Paul is the better player and point guard. This season Lillard and the Blazers won 1 out of 3 games against the Clippers though their March matchup was a two point Blazer loss. The Blazers lone win was six months ago, in November. Paul had 11 points and 8 assists on a 33% shooting night while Lillard had 27 points on 25 shots and 7 assists.
In his 11th NBA year, Chris Paul is the point guard all other point guards measure themselves by. His game is old school. 6 out of 11 seasons he has averaged 10+ assists. Two seasons he averaged 9.8 assists. His low in assists for a season was his rookie year, 7.8.
Damian Lillard has never had a 7.8 assist season, much less a 10+ assist year. His career high in assists is this year at 6.8.
Unlike Paul, Lillard is a scoring point and balances his offensive talent with organizing his teammates. Exactly like Paul, Lillard is a strong leader.
When measured for on court impact, Chris Paul is the second best point in the league behind Steph Curry. Damian Lillard is the 14th best (Real Plus Minus). Chris Paul, on his own, adds 18.4 wins to the Clippers season while Damian Lillard adds 15.0 wins (Estimated Wins Added).
Now the two meet in the playoffs in the first round and both find baggage strapped around their neck. Chris Paul has never made it to the Conference Finals and is the only multi-decorated All-Star to be repeatedly thwarted. This year he is not supposed to get there either. A loss in the second round to the Warriors is the safe bet.
Damian Lillard is not supposed to advance out of the first round. The Clippers are the more complete team and the better defensive club plus they have the experience and a team of veterans with a deep hunger to finally get to the Conference Finals. On paper, the series may go six games if the Blazers squeak out a couple of home wins.
But you don’t play games on paper. The Clippers have shown an inability to close teams out in the playoffs. Their mental toughness is always a question mark. Blake Griffin is not Blake Griffin playing as he is with a quad tear. Paul Pierce is old. Wesley Johnson is Wesley Johnson. Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan will show up big time but when you have to depend on Cole Aldridge and Austin Rivers to be consistent, you are crossing your fingers and living on hope.
This is a first for Damian Lillard. The undisputed leader for the Blazers has an opportunity unlike any that’s he’s been presented with in his brief career. He can go up against the league’s most dominant point and match his output and guide the Blazers to a series win.
That is the Portland plan.
photo via llananba