Damian Lillard, Team Hill Win Rising Stars Challenge

Feb 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Team Hill guard Damien Lillard (0) handles the ball against Team Weber guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) during Rising Stars Challenge at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

 

In a game filled with porous defense, alley-oops, and lots of scoring, Damian Lillard’s calm leadership proved to be key as Team Hill defeated Team Webber 142-136. In a switch-up from the past couple years when Charles Barkley and Shaq were the general managers, this year’s teams were managed by Grant Hill and Chris Webber, who selected the teams from a pool of 18 players.

Lillard, who was Hill’s first pick (and second overall), ultimately finished with 13 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds in 30 minutes. While you cannot take too much from a low-effort All-Star competition, the game really made me appreciate Lillard’s utter calmness and control of the moment. He never looked remotely fazed, and his quiet refusal to give into the pressure or stage really showed.

Perhaps my favorite moment was when he dropped in a picture-perfect 7-foot floater, something I hope he can start to incorporate into real games. While the defense he faced was certainly not at full effort, the mechanics looked solid, and I see no reason why it can’t become a larger part of his arsenal for the rest of the season.

As for the game itself, it was, as completely expected, a high-scoring, back and forth affair. One nice aspect was that it allowed me to see extended minutes from players I cannot pay as much attention to, particularly those from Eastern Conference teams. The two who most stood out to me were Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

I now see why Drumond is sometimes referred to as a baby Shaq, and surprisingly I can get on board with this moniker. He was an absolute monster down low, tallying 17 points and 11 rebounds in the first half alone, while bullying anyone from team Webber who tried to defend him. He eventually finished with 30 points and 25 rebounds on 12-21 shooting and earned the game’s MVP award. His strength was impressive, but equally so was his body control and fluid movement.

Antetokounmpo, who had the game-icing steal, was the only player who seemed to be remotely putting effort in on both ends for the entire game, which immediately endeared him to me. As a rookie from Greece, his occasional timidity is understandable, but I cannot wait until his confidence grows and he asserts himself more forcefully during games.

The game remained competitive into the waning moments, even featuring a Dion Waiters (31 points) vs Tim Hardaway, Jr. (36 points) duel in the final ten minutes. Eventually Team Hill earned some separation in the final two minutes, hit their free throws, and the first of Lillard’s five All-Star Weekend events was over.

 

 

Topics: All-Star Weekend, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, Rising Stars Challenge

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