Damian Lillard is taking apart Russell Westbrook and the Thunder

Arnold Nichols
April 20, 2019

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder at home in the opener of their first-round National Basketball Association playoff series. The 27-year-old racked up a game-high 33 points in Tuesday's win, and has averaged 28.5 points per game in the early going of the postseason.

The Rockets were one game away from the NBA Finals last season and are quite possibly the only NBA team without any fear of the Golden State Warriors. The crowd booed almost every time Westbrook touched the ball and Lillard, not known for his defensive prowess, stayed tight on his man, harassing him at almost every turn. He might not have been the sieve that his detractors tried to tab him as, but he undoubtably had room to improve. Defensively the Thunder didn't let Portland get hot.

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on Damian Lillard getting the best of Russell Westbrook & OKC: "It was no surprise when, after his team lost Game 2 of its Western Conference first-round playoff series to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Westbrook had little to offer in response to a question about the competitive nature of his relationship with Portland point guard Damian Lillard".

"I thought we got great looks", George told the media ater Game 1. "He knows how important it is at both ends of the floor".

In the postgame presser, the former MVP took full responsibility for the blowout loss "I got to play better and I take full responsibility for tonight's loss because the way I played was unacceptable".

Lillard, the Thunder's Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley all play with an edge and have provided some of the most entertaining moments of the post-season so far.

"Four days ago I couldn't even lift my shoulder", he said. The biggest story of the contest was Paul George's performance and what it might mean for the Thunder going forward.

"We've been sharp and a lot of things have come for us in a positive way because of that". "We're going to come out with that business attitude and our focus is going to remain the same", Lillard said after practice.

At no point were the improvements Lillard has made defensively more obvious than during a sequence in the third quarter of Game Two. Lowry, who missed all seven attempts in game one, shot eight for 13 and added seven assists. Westbrook manages to back down Lillard, who mostly ceded the space between the three-point line and the paint, to within 15 feet of the rim. A tight game in the first half quickly devolved into a blowout, with the Blazers backcourt making plays and the Thunder fumbling to keep up. Although small ball would eventually take over.

"I don't really have a choice but to embrace it", Lillard said.

"That is all I was telling him, he knew I was right as well". For me, it's just rhythm. "That's half the battle, just knowing what's coming and having your mind engaged".

Those deep threes that Damian can hit, is there value beyond the three points in those? At that point, the clock ticked back to the standard offense-defined "Dame Time", though it was undoubtedly set up by the the newer defensive version. The Trail Blazers may still have a hard playoff ceiling but Lillard's play is certainly moving it up.

"I had a good day out there today".

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