Damian Lillard is no question one of the best point guards in the league. But what I do question is Dame’s ability to carry a team past the first two rounds, let alone get more than two wins out of the ten games they’ve played in the second round in two appearances. I want to so badly to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s playing in an era where the Warriors have been a force the past 4 years and now the Rockets are quickly emerging through picking up free agent talent; spending money getting to the top with Harden and Chris Paul, rather than the Trail Blazers way of grooming talent from the draft like Lillard himself and Cj McCollum. But there are no excuses in sports.
Lillard let the NBA know he was here to stay as a prominent point guard in his first playoff series in 2014, hitting a buzzer beating 3 to send the Rockets home in 6 games. He averaged 22.9 ppg in the playoffs, before being bounced in the 2nd round by the eventual NBA champions of that year: The San Antonio Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge helped pitch in 26.2 ppg while Cj McCollum, a rookie, was non-existent. For his first time in the playoffs, Lillard certainly made noise.
In 2015, despite McCollum stepping up and adding 17 ppg to Lillards 21.6 and Aldridge’s 21.8, they lost in 5 games to the Grizzlies. 2016, a second round exit once again, this time by the 73-9 Warriors, which is understandable. Then, in 2017, they got swept by the 2017 championship Warriors. The team they’re facing this year, are nowhere near the Warriors.
The Pelicans only notable player to most would be Anthony Davis, but people are forgetting national TV Rondo, and Jrue Holiday who’s been shutting down Lillard, holding him to 17.5 ppg. McCollum only averages 20.5 ppg, which doesn’t help considering his field goal percentage is 41%. The bench for the Trail Blazers hasn’t showed up yet. Evan Turner doesn’t live up to his $17.5 million a year contract this year. His minutes are down, so are his overall stats. Turner isn’t a 3-point shooter and never has been, but him not stepping up and not living up to his contract is a bad showing for him and only makes the Blazers look like they don’t know how to integrate talent with Lillard and McCollum. There lies the problem. With Lillard, the Pelicans send 2-3 guys at once on some possessions, putting pressure on his teammates to make open shots and shot open 3’s in the playoffs. The best 3-point shooter on the team with meaningful minutes is Al-Farouq Aminu at 45.5%; the next best is Cj McCollum at 38.9%. For comparison, the Celtics have 4 guys shooting above 40% in these playoffs. Not everything is Lillards fault, some is just the team that was built around him.
The Pelicans should not be shutting down the entire team. Jrue Holiday is a great defender and is 13th in defensive win shares. He is a primary defender on Lillard and would be understandable if he slowed down Lillard, but to hold him to 17.5 ppg is embarrassing. It’s not Dame time until you get past the 2nd round, or not lose in 5 games each time your there. You have Cj McCollum putting up fairly decent numbers, and its been shown that 2 good-to-great players can be enough to carry a team to the conference finals and be a game away from the finals. We’ve seen it with Westbrook and Durant a few years ago, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and most likely we’ll see it with James Harden and Chris Paul. Lillard is 27 and is in his prime. If he doesn’t step up and at least get passed the second round, it’s hard for me to see any talent wanting to come to Portland and help them out. The ball doesn’t move, shots never fall, and they’re being irritated by a team without DeMarcus Cousins. No more excuses for Lillard. Either showcase your talent in the playoffs and carry your team past these tough teams, or just be a Carmelo Anthony and hardly ever make it out of the first or second round with only one conference finals appearance and nothing else to show for it. I like Damian Lillard and genuinely root for him, but after a while this act gets old of him not being able to carry a team. Chris Paul too but his legacy is already decided unless he can make it to the finals. But, Dame, it’s time to put up or shut up in the playoffs. You have another star player with you, make some noise.