Down 19 at the half, Damian Lillard came out leading from the front, surprisingly through his defense. Sunday was just another example of his elite leadership qualities
I really don’t think the season Damian Lillard is currently having, is being talked about enough. It’s minor stuff, but the fact we still see takes like Lillard isn’t top 10 in the bubble, or Luka Doncic is already better than him? It’s borderline disrespectful at this point.
Despite the loss, Lillard proved once again yesterday evening that he’s amongst the league’s elite. Jusuf Nurkic kept the Portland Trail Blazers alive in the first half, and Dame, was relatively quiet, despite racking up some assists.
Jayson Tatum (as he usually has for the past few months) caught fire, and had 21 points going into the half. The Blazers struggle to defend the perimeter, and the Celtics caught them out here, draining a number of difficult shots from beyond the arc.
The game looked done. Damian Lillard, was not. Lillard came out, and apparently decided to take on that Tatum challenge. The 6-foot-8 Tatum challenge, using his 6-foot-2 frame. But Lillard went above and beyond, holding Tatum to 3-of-9 in the second half, and dragging the Blazers back into the game.
The exclamation point came late in the third. Lillard converted a ridiculous 4-point play to cut it to single digits, then went straight down the other end, picked up Tatum in the post and blocked his shot attempt. Dame followed this by diving to the floor, sliding out of the court to try and save a loose ball; Lillard is a pure winner, and was letting everyone know about it.
It’s not a hot-take to call him the best leader in basketball at this point. Every few minutes vs the Celtics, if things got scrambled, he brought the team together, and reset the team focus. He leads from the front not just through his play on the court, but his mindset, his mentality, his pure drive to win in Portland.
It’s no surprise we see such great player development in Portland — Lillard sets the tone for this! Gary Trent Jr. has gone from fringe player to a must-play playoff guy in under a year. Nurkic now looks like one of the best big men in the game, and has spoken incredibly fondly about Dame and life as a Blazer.
We saw it last year with Rodney Hood and Seth Curry too, Lillard took them straight under the umbrella he’s created in Portland, and went to work. Both Hood and Curry won playoff games for the Blazers last year, and Trent Jr looks to be on a similar path.
Lillard’s defensive improvement is just another example of his greatness. For years, the Lillard / McCollum backcourt was described as extremely one-sided; they could score the ball, sure, but defensively? A massive liability.
Now? A take like that is simply lazy. Much like James Harden, Dame has spent time to work on his defense, and is now not a player you need to hide — he’s actually a plus! His hands are quick, his instincts for deflections and steals are terrific, and Lillard is a dog out there, not a player you want to see when it matters.