The first time it was Dwight Howard. Dame Lillard nearly made him cry. It was 2014 and the Portland Trailblazers were home and the Rockets were trying to force a Game 7. It was a 4-5 matchup. Houston had home court and in the first two games LaMarcus Aldridge showed off, draining midrange jumper after midrange jumper and averaging 40+ to stun the locals. But it was Lillard time now. He had the final say and his game winner to send the Blazers to the second round probably drove Aldridge out of town the next season. Aldridge’s personality and game could never overshadow Blazer guards. First it was Brandon Roy. Now it was Damian Lillard.
Damian Lillard entered the NBA after 4 years at Weber State and admitted he just wasn’t ready earlier. But he was ready in 2014. Chandler Parsons got caught up on a screen leaving the 23 year old second year player wide open. Lillard drained a three at the buzzer to win the series. Angles of Dwight Howard’s face leaving the court was teary sadness.
Aldridge left the Blazers the next season and Lillard was the star. He had a Steph Curry kind of game, launching insane threes, but he didn’t play with the external joy of Steph who always looks like he is at a pick up game at the beach. Oakland native Lillard is stoic on the court. No trash talking. No talking period. Every now and then he’ll cozy up to a ref to explain what they missed but that’s all the chatter that you will get out of him. It’s refreshing.
Kobe anointed Lillard in 2013 as the next, meaning the next Kobe, meaning the next clutch player, meaning the next taking his game seriously, meaning the next superstar, meaning the next I can drop 50 in the playoffs and carry my team to a win.
Paired up against Russell Westbrook, it was a silhouette of good vs. evil. Westbrook is talkative and cocky and arrogant. He plays with his emotions on his sleeve, for better and for worse. Lillard is a surgeon on the court. He is emotionless but determined and nothing seems to faze him. If the Blazers have a 10 point lead or if they are trailing by 12, it is the same Dame Lillard expression. He never panics.
In the close out game against the Thunder- props to Paul George for bringing it but we did warn you about teaming with Russ- Blazer teammates of Lillard were less than. C.J. McCollum was in early foul trouble and his shot was off. Enes Kanter hurt his shoulder. Al-Farouq Aminu wasn’t going to repeat his Game 4 performance of 19 points. Zach Collins got got. Maurice Harkless was limping. Evan Turner was a ghost. It was Lillard doing Lillard things. Driving to the cup. Hitting impossible threes.
But Lillard has this trick to his game that Kobe recognized as belonging to him too. In the 4th, usually in the middle of it, he misses shots. They rim out. They clank the rim. He gets knocked out of bounds and no call. And then, on cue, with about 3 minutes left, he changes into Killer Dame.
As Rachel Nichols of ESPN pointed out, you never hear of dysfunction out of the Blazers locker room. No one whines. No one complains. Even in their first round exits, the only talk of breaking up the Lillard-McCollum tandem came from media talking heads and not inside the organization. The Blazers know what they have and are sticking with it because it’s the best guard combo not named Steph-Klay. You don’t give up on that.
A year ago, a frustrated Damian Lillard went to talk to Blazers owner Paul Allen. Allen was afraid Lillard wanted a trade but Lillard isn’t reactionary. However, he did need to know about the franchise and their goals and where they were headed. Lillard wants to win in Portland but he won’t kill himself if everyone isn’t on board.
Paul Allen died in the fall of 2018. Damian Lillard is the greatest player he drafted as owner.
Last night, center stage, the definition of insanity was on display. According to Freud, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results. Only fools or the stupid do that. However. Rip City insanity- Dame Lillard hitting game winners to make superstars cry- has the Blazers in the second round.
We are all witnesses.