The Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Footlock Three-Point Contest and the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. That was Damian Lillard’s schedule at All-Star Saturday night in New Orleans. After a week of build up to his historic night — he’s the first player to compete in five events at All-Star Weekend — Lillard responded by winning the Skills Challenge, missing out on the final of the Three-Point Shootout by one point and being eliminated by Toronto’s Terrence Ross, a Portland native, in the Dunk Contest.
“I was happy to just be invited to all of them and be able to compete in them,” said Lillard. “I wanted to win at least one and I won the first one and I thought that would be some momentum to continue and try to win all three of them, but I feel short in the three-point contest. As you all saw, in the dunk contest they kind of just out-classed us. I’m just happy that I was able to compete in all of them.”
Lillard start the night off on the right foot, winning the Taco Bell Skills Challenge for the second consecutive time. The rules where different in this year’s contest, with players competing as a team rather than individuals with the first. And as was the case with all of the Saturday events, players were separated by conferences.
Lillard was teamed up with Jazz rookie Trey Burke and the point guard duo finished the first round time of 40.6 seconds, beating out the team of Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic by 1.7 seconds.
Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo advanced out of the Eastern bracket with a first round time of 43.3 seconds.
Carter-Williams and Oladipo went first in the final round and turned in a time of 45.3 seconds. Lillard and Burke struggled with both the shooting and passing drill in the final, but still managed to come away victorious with a time of 45.2 seconds, just a tenth of a second faster than the rookie team from the East.
“I started to hear the crowd,” said Burke. “You continue to glance up at the clock to see how much time you’ve got. I just tried to get there as quick as possible. I looked up and I thought we tied, but Dame told me that we ended up winning. It was a good experience.”
Next up, the Three-Point Contest, which also featured a new wrinkle in that players were given one full rack of “money balls” each worth two points. Lillard chose to put his money ball rack at the second station and ended up going 14 for 25 for 18 points, which was two points better than Minnesota’s Kevin Love.
“I decided to put it on the left wing because that’s the spot I’m most comfortable shooting from,” said Lillard of his money ball rack placement. “I kept telling myself I needed to make at least four out of five of them and I think I made three or four.”
Unfortunately, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli surpassed Lillard’s score with 19 points, which he didn’t secure until his last shot. Lillard ended up with the third-best score of the first round, but only the top finisher from each conference moved on to the final.
“It came down to the last shot,” said Lillard. “The one that I missed, that could have put me in the final, but I missed it.”
Belinelli would end up defeating Washington’s Bradley Beal with 24 points in the tiebreaker round after both players finished the final with 19 points.
The caper to the night was the dunk contest, which also featured changes in format from previous years. Dunkers competed in teams, starting off with ah 90-second “freestyle” round, which allowed dunkers an unlimited amount of tries.
Lillard was teamed up with Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore. Lillard missed his first dunk, a between-the-legs one-handed finish, but made it on the second attempt in what was one of the better dunks of the contest. But there wasn’t much cohesion between Lillard, Barnes and McLemore didn’t come together, and the East team of Paul George, John Wall and Terrence Ross took the first round.
“I thought my dunks were good,” said Lillard. “I think we came out rusty to start. We missed a few dunks, we didn’t execute how we did in practice, we just stuck with it. I think
we kind of freestyled a little bit toward the end just because what we went over didn’t work right away. (The East), like I said, they came out ready and they put down some nice dunks.”
In the second “dunk battle” round, Lillard pulled off a 360 dunk on his second try, but was bested by Ross, who brought out adult contemporary rapper Drake to hold the ball for his between-the-legs dunk. Ross missed his first two tries before completing the dunk on the third attempt. Despite that, Ross won the votes of Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J, which gave Ross the win despite Magic Johnson voting for Lillard.
The East would eventually win the contest, with Wall being named the “Dunker of the Night.”
Lillard now has just one more event, the actual 2014 NBA All-Star Game, to complete his five-event weekend.
That’s the ultimate goal, to become an All-Star in the NBA and win championships. Being able to play in that big game is big to me, and I’m excited about it.”
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.
Damian Lillard was having one of his worst shooting nights of the season through the first three 36 minutes of Portland’s 108-98 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Five of their first round playoff series Wednesday night at Staples Center. Though he no longer had to deal with being defended by guard Chris Paul, who is out of the series after breaking a bone in his right hand during Game Four, the Clippers continued their series-long tactic of throwing constant double teams and traps at Lillard, pestering the 6-3 point guard to go just 1-of-10 from the field through the first three quarters.
“It wasn’t even so much missing the shots that was bothering me, it was just I couldn’t get any attempts because they were so aggressive,” said Lillard. “They played a smaller lineup more often than they did the first couple games, but everything that I did, they were just as aggressive. It was obvious that they wanted me to get rid of the ball just like it was in the first four games.”
And for most of the night, the strategy worked. Despite being being without Paul and Blake Griffin, who is also out for the series with a left quad injury, the Clippers took a five-point lead into the intermission. Even when CJ McCollum got his shot going in the third quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, Los Angeles was still able to go into the fourth quarter tied at 71-71.
But even though Lillard was struggling, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided to leave his point guard in the game to start the fourth quarter. Stotts said after the game that he changed up that rotation in order to get McCollum some extra rest, though it ultimately had another benefit.
“I usually play the third and then I sit the first couple minutes of the fourth,” said Lillard. “But I hadn’t gotten it going, and Coach Stotts knew that it was a game that we needed to win. It was a huge game for us. I think he left me out there just so I could get it going.”
Which he did. Lillard made his first attempt of the fourth quarter, a 26-foot pullup three-pointer, after just 15 seconds had elapsed in the fourth. Less than two minutes later, he made another pullup three. He stripped Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni on the ensuing possession and then converted the turnover into a fastbreak dunk, which gave Lillard eight points roughly two minutes.
“I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it,” said Lillard. “All my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right. I would have been doing that all along, but it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out. I had to trust the right play, hitting the guy in the middle and allowing him to make the next play to the weak side. I just had to be patient.”
But Lillard wasn’t done just yet. He left the game with just over nine minutes to play in order to get the rest that he’d usually get at the start of the quarter before returning at the 6:25 mark to presumably play the remainder of regulation.
And from there, it was Lillard Time.
He’s go on to make a 16-foot jumper and two three-pointers over the course of a two-minute span that saw the Trail Blazers extend their lead from 10 to 17 while effectively putting the game out of reach with 3:38 to play. By time Lillard subbed out with just under a minute to play, he had put up 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three in eight and a half fourth-quarter minutes, helping Portland take a 3-2 series lead with what could be a deciding Game Six scheduled for Friday at the Moda Center.
Some players might have chosen, either subconsciously or otherwise, to defer exclusively to his teammates or find reasons not to shoot after struggling through the first three quarters like Lillard did. But that’s not how he got to where he’s at, and it certainly wouldn’t get the Trail Blazers to where they want to go. Regardless of how the game starts, Lillard is always out to finish thanks to a firm belief that the next shot, and the one after that, and the one after that, is going to find the bottom of the net.
“Regardless of how I play in the first three quarters, always in my mind I tell myself, ‘You going to come up big,’” said Lillard. “Even if it comes down to one possession, if I’ve got one point and there’s one possession left in the game, I always tell myself, ‘You’re going to come up big.’ So I was counting on that. That was it. It’s just the mindset, confidence.”