Damian Lillard is demanding respect from everyone right now. And he deserves it.
In the first round of the playoffs last year, Lillard and the Trail Blazers faced the New Orleans Pelicans. In a shocking series of events, the Pelicans swept Portland. Lillard had, for all intents and purposes, a pretty bad series. Playoff Rondo showed up, and Jrue Holiday made sure to crowd Lillard every time he had the
ball. Lillard only scored an uncharacteristic 18.5 points per game in the four-game series.
After the sweep, everyone made sure to let Lillard know that they thought he was not an elite guard. That is simply untrue.
First of all, he has consistently been one of the best guards in the NBA. Second of all, he is playing great in his current playoff series to show what he is capable of. Despite losing Game 3 of the opening-round series Friday to Oklahoma City, Portland still leads 2-1 in the series, and Lillard has led his team the whole way.
Not only that, he has gone up against Russell Westbrook punch-for-punch. Lillard scored 30 points in Game 1 to match Westbrook’s triple-double. In Game 2, Westbrook nearly had another triple-double, but he also only had 14 points; Lillard had 29 points and six assists in the Game 2 Portland win. Oklahoma City took Game 3 at home, but Lillard still matched up well with Westbrook.
Westbrook had a fun time ‘babying’ Lillard on some baskets and chirping at Lillard, but the fact
is that Lillard stepped up and helped his team when they needed him.
Westbrook scored more points than Lillard (33-32), but Lillard had an impactful third quarter.
Portland trailed 49-39 at half, a somewhat tough deficit to erase in the playoffs.
But Lillard led Portland to outscore the Thunder 43-37 in the third quarter (Thunder only led by 4 going into the fourth). Not only that, but Lillard himself had 25 points in the third quarter, giving the Trail Blazers a big
chance to pull off a comeback. They ultimately did not make the comeback, but Lillard once again proved himself.
He also defended Westbrook really well; Westbrook just made good shots. Westbrook was taunting him the whole game, and people certainly have last year ready in the back of their mind for ammunition if Lillard screws up even once. But, the truth is he is an elite player and showed that Friday.
The outcome of the series looks like it could go to either team at this point. But the one thing that will help Portland is Lillard’s play. He has redeemed himself already from last year, and he has at least two more games to show that.
So, Lillard may have been shut down last year, but right now, he is going toe-to-toe with the guy who averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.