PORTLAND — Damian Lillard grabbed the ball during a timeout in the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 and shot a short set shot. He grabbed it again after making the shot and hit a layup before walking to the Portland Trail Blazers‘ bench.
Lillard just wanted to see the ball go through the net, which has been a rare occurrence for the Trail Blazers’ star in the Western Conference finals.
Portland is in jeopardy of being swept by the Golden State Warriors in part because Lillard has struggled to get in any sort of rhythm while facing a constant barrage of double-teams and blitzes on pick-and-rolls.
“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said after scoring 19 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the 110-99 loss Saturday. “You know, as long as I can do it, and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games, when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.
“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling.”
Lillard is averaging 20.3 points in the series, but he’s shooting only 32.6 percent from the floor and has almost as many turnovers (14) as made field goals (15).
“I’m tired of hearing people say that Dame hasn’t stepped up,” said Blazers center Meyers Leonard, who scored 16 points in his first start of the playoffs. “No. Wrong. He’s our leader. He’s a damn good player. He’s a first-team All-NBA player this year, and other guys have to be willing to screen. They have to be willing to execute, make plays and help them out and loosen up the defense. So that way, when [Lillard and CJ McCollum] do get some looks, they can knock them down. It’s as simple as that.”
Lillard suffered a separated rib in Game 2, when Golden State center Kevon Looney fell on him while fighting for a loose ball, a league source said. However, the source downplayed the impact of the rib on Lillard’s performance, saying that he frequently plays through injuries.
The Warriors’ defense has given Lillard trouble, forcing him to be one-dimensional as a scorer. He’s only 5-of-20 on shots inside the 3-point line in the series.
Lillard excelled attacking off the dribble in the first two rounds of the playoffs, in which he averaged 7.4 points per game off of drives, shooting 51 percent on those possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has averaged only 2.0 points per game on drives in the West finals, shooting 22 percent on those plays.
In Game 3, Lillard missed all five of his attempts inside the restricted area, with Draymond Green or Looney challenging each shot.
“I mean, I tried to get aggressive,” Lillard said. “I tried to force the action. Both guys staying with me, and then Draymond is lurking behind them. You know, you go up against a wall of defense, sometimes it’s three defenders. It’s tough because you’re not always going to get a quality look, and then when you do get a quality look and don’t make it, that just kind of makes it worse.”
As the Blazers’ offense sputtered in the second half, Lillard tried to take over. But he was only 3-of-12 from the floor in the half, and he scored nine of the Blazers’ 33 points as the Warriors roared back from a 13-point halftime deficit.
“Our offense fell apart,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We missed some shots. Took some tough shots. Didn’t move the ball as well. They were scoring, so we were taking it out of the net. Didn’t get any transition. So I said at the beginning of the series, to beat Golden State, you’ve got to be able to score. Scoring 33 in the second half is not going to do it.”
Green, Golden State’s defensive anchor, said the Warriors want to wear Lillard down over the course of a game.
“That’s been our plan, and we’ve done a pretty good job,” Green said. “Like Klay [Thompson] said, we’ve got one more game to win, and we know Damian can get hot and change an entire series. We just have to stay locked in because we know he’s more than capable.”