Post-season experience is seen as something undeniably crucial for teams to move on in the playoffs, and it is. Players need to stay composed on the big stage, and play with a sense of poise and position. Especially in away arenas, where the support is foreign and more or less aggressive in nature toward the visiting players that need to stay focused, and not be brought down by the anonymous comments of the 45-year old desk worker who claims they’re “too fat” or “too slow”
Doubt was cast over Damian Lillard‘s ability to perform at the Toyota Center last night. The doubt was fueled by a lack of playoff experience, and with the post-season atmosphere much different than regular season games, it was said that Lillard would find it difficult to play under the new circumstances. He never played in front of large crowds at Weber State, a mid-major school that would rarely ever play a ranked team, to further strengthen this claim. And to ignite the flame further, he was to be guarded by Patrick Beverley, someone who he had trouble playing against during the regular season – with that trouble escaping to words exchanged off the court.
After Lillard’s performance in Sunday’s 122-120 overtime win, where he finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists , it’s almost safe to say that Damian didn’t let the foreign playoff atmosphere bring him down. Even when Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge were fouled out, he remained poised, calm and collected. And in doing so, he led the Blazers to an important game 1 victory, crucially stealing home court to put Portland in a commanding position.
Lillard was the king of highlight and courageous plays in the clutch. He created a four-point play opportunity when he drew contact from Jeremy Lin with under 1 minute to go, showing that his basketball-IQ is beyond his years in the process. With 30 seconds to go he drew Terrence Jones up in the air on the shot fake, and hit the three to tie the game. He would then go on to keep the game alive for Aldridge’s tip-in that sent the game into overtime, throwing up a last second attempt of his own, and drawing Dwight Howard out to pressure him, leaving Aldridge open. These three plays in the final minute of the fourth quarter were the reason why Portland was still in the position to leave the Toyota Center with a win.
The best thing about Lillard’s complete game? Even with the drastic efforts of Patrick Beverley, he only turned the ball over once.
In four regular season contests against the Rockets, Lillard turned the ball over an average of four times per game. In previous encounters with Beverley, Lillard had become demonstrative in body language, which indicated to Beverley that he had gotten under Lillard’s skin. Today? Lillard remained composed under the irritating defense of Beverley, failing to react viciously to any act designed to put him off his game. Beverley had Lillard’s match early on, with Lillard struggling throughout the first half, but he only came out stronger, to defeat Beverley on an individual level, as well as the scoreboard.
A collective gasp occurred amongst Blazer fans as Lillard got his knee banged up trying to chase his man around a Howard post-up, but he only bounced back stronger, yet again. The end was in sight after Aldridge had fouled out, as Howard was still in the game, but Lillard only increased his level of play, making the Blazers better.
After overcoming enormous adversity throughout game 1, Lillard needs to prove he can once again get it done come Wednesday night for game 2 and prove that it wasn’t all just a playoff miracle.
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