This Wednesday, in a battle of the crippled teams, Damian Lillard poured in a game-high 31 points on 13-21 shooting against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, while missing Tim Duncan to protect the rim, are traditionally an excellent defensive team; currently ranked 5th in the league. To see Lillard have success against them was a definite silver lining of the loss, but, the ways in which he found success were even more encouraging.
On the season thus far, Lillard has shot only 44.8% from within eight feet of the hoop. For guards, who can generally thrive on layups, this number is rather low and severely dents his efficiency. This is further reaffirmed by looking at Lillard’s success in the same area last season, when he shot an even 50% there.
From what I have seen this season, Lillard has been playing for the foul far too often. I am starting to appreciate more and more what a special player he is, but this is one area of his game that I have had no problems criticizing. By flailing his body into a defender in an attempt to draw the whistle, Lillard was sacrificing a close shot attempt, and potentially putting his team in a bad position if he ended up falling to the ground.
Except for specific circumstances (trying to get an opposing center in foul trouble,for example), I would always prefer that Lillard, or any other Blazer for that matter, actually try to make the shot straight up. As has been the case more than once this season, you simply cannot rely on the referee’s whistle to bail you out all the time.
Yet, for much of the beginning of the season, this is what Lillard was doing – driving to the rim and only looking for the foul. And then, on Wednesday, everything looked completely different. Lillard was looking to drive, and when he got to the rim, every single time he was looking to score, not looking to get fouled. It was night and day compared to some games from earlier in this season.
The difference was already noticeable in the second quarter, by which point David and I had both noticed. I loved every second of it. I had always known that Lillard had the potential for this type of around-the-rim efficiency, but it was wonderful to see in person.
On the game, Lillard shot 9-12 (75%) within eight feet, far better than his season average thus far. While an incredibly telling statistic on its own, perhaps even more telling is that Lillard scored his 31 points while making only one three-pointer. Generally when Lillard has had a scoring explosion, the bulk of it comes from three-pointers. Not this night – the bulk is right there in his close range shooting, where he netted 18 of his points.
If Lillard had performed against the Spurs at his normal season shooting average, he would have essentially shot 5-12 from within the eight foot area. Take into account that four-basket difference, and all of a sudden Lillard’s scoring drops from 31 to 24, which is nice but not nearly as impressive.
It was only one game, but the signs were encouraging. This production will be doubly important against a team that bottles up the Blazers’ three point attack, such as the Spurs. Hopefully, in conjunction with his new All-Star confidence, Lillard can make this type of performance the norm, not the exception.