Damian Lillard doesn’t want to hear that no team has ever come back from a 0-3 start in an NBA playoff series.
Portland’s All-Star point guard has dramatically distanced himself from a slump at the start of the playoffs and is determined to extend the series.
Make history? Maybe. But for right now it’s just about winning the next one.
”Since we went down 0-3, the big thing we’ve been talking about is having heart and playing with pride,” he said.
The Trail Blazers avoided the sweep and now head to Memphis for Game 5 on Wednesday night, with the Grizzlies at a 3-1 advantage. The opening-round winner will face the Golden State Warriors.
Lillard struggled at the start in the postseason: He went 5 of 21 overall and missed six 3-point attempts in the series opener, a 100-86 Portland loss. Then he was 5 of 16 and hit 1 of 5 outside the arc in the Blazers’ 97-82 Game 2 loss. Seven of his 18 points came on free throws.
The return to Portland inspired Lillard, who began to emerge with 22 points and nine assists in Portland’s 115-109 Game 3 loss.
Then he broke out with 32 points to help the Blazers stave off elimination in a 99-92 victory on Monday night. He made just one 3-pointer, but he was able to drive to the net.
”He’s been criticized the first three games, people … say, `Where is Dame?”’ forward Nicolas Batum said. ”He showed everybody, `(I’m) right here. Don’t worry about it. I’m good.’ I’m very proud of him because he showed who he is.”
”Adjustments to the way they’ve defended me. My routine, what I do on the floor, and just seeing the things I could do on film to help myself, to make the game come easier,” he said. ”It’s simple: Just stick to what I do. Trust the process, trust my teammates and the coaches and be myself. It’s working out better in these last two games than it did in the first two.”
The Grizzlies were playing without point guard Mike Conley, who had success defending Lillard in the first two games.
Conley was inadvertently elbowed in the face in Game 3 and had surgery on Monday in Memphis. His status for the playoffs is not certain.
The Grizzlies turned to second-year guard Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih in Conley’s absence. Calathes started Game 4.
Lillard took advantage. His 32 points were a new career playoff high.
”He (Lillard) was aggressive,” said Memphis forward Tony Allen. ”He got into the cracks of our defense. He broke us down on pick and rolls, and once you don’t contain that early, he gets more comfortable throughout the game.”
Last season, Lillard hit a 3-pointer with less than a second on the clock that gave Portland a six-game first-round victory over the Rockets and sent the team to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.
This series hasn’t had those opportunities. But Portland got a big boost from its bench to extend the series. Guard CJ McCollum had 18 points – after 26 points in Game 3. He’s averaging 22 points in the last two games.
”As good as Lillard was – and he’s a heck of a player – we’ve got serious problems right now with CJ McCollum,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. ”He is getting to the rim, to the rim on us over and over and over. He had another good game tonight and we have to do a better job of keeping in front of him.”
The win boosted the team’s confidence. There’s no more talk about the sweep, or the state of the series.
”We won’t think about if we win, we make history,” Batum said. ”No, that may be a mistake thinking like that. We have to stay focused on the next game, try to win the next game. We just stay focused on Game 5.”