Damian Lillard. SubZero. Good Kid, Rip City. Big Game Dame. Cecelia's grandson.
Damian Fucking Lillard!
The man, that were he David, towered over by Goliath, would not be content with a miraculous stone throw to take down the giant. No. There would have to be much more dominance involved. The rock, sling and divine intervention wouldn't exist, but the disbelief of the audience, eyes locked on the scene unfolding before them, would have to be multiplied tenfold.
That's what drives him. The doubt is fuel. He would have to face the colossus in hand-to-hand combat, alone, man to man, and break him down limb by limb in front of the stunned disbelievers.
That's what Lillard does. That's one of the traits that makes him so exciting: he doesn't look to overcome obstacles, he bends them to his will. The harder the difficulty, the more egregious the snub, the more spectacular his attempt to prove himself.
It's to the point that you almost hope he gets slighted just to see how he reacts.
No other season of his professional career is more evident of this than the current one. Being left by his lonesome after the other starters from last year departed to greener pastures; being told by experts and fans that his team would be the bottom of the Western Conference because of such a big loss; and then, maybe most hurtful of all, having to accept the voting world, for the second consecutive season, didn't deem him worthy of being an All-Star -- even as he proceeds to have the best year of his career.
Seething from that exclusion, Chip-On-The-Shoulder Dame was guaranteed for something spectacular, and the unsuspecting Golden State Warriors presented the perfect stage. The scene unfolded before the onlookers: the best team in the NBA against the team many sensible people suspected would be the worst. Lillard was focused on the task at hand, facing the history-chasing league champions with the promise of a direct head-to-head battle with basketball's best point guard and player.
A career-high 51 points, six steals, seven assists, nine threes -- as many as both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined -- and a blowout of one of history's greatest teams. Lillard is on the best start possible to his crusade to embarrass his doubters once again.
The box score alone is impressive but it doesn't detail enough just how much he wanted this game.
With a little bit more than five minutes left in the third quarter, and with Portland leading Golden State, 88-73, Lillard shot a contested three from the right wing after coming off a pick. He missed and Draymond Green rebounded. As the Warriors are known to do, they tried to push the ball to the other end quickly before the opponent's defense could get into position. This time with Green launching the ball downcourt to a streaking Curry who had just stepped right under the top of the key.
Curry was the player screened for Lillard to take the three to begin with, and as the shot went up he had already begun drifting away to cherry-pick, regardless if it resulted in a make or not. So he had a considerable amount of distance between himself and Lillard when Green hauled in the rebound.
As the pass from Green came in for what should have been an easy layup, Lillard darted in from off-frame to undercut it and intercept it, falling down, sliding and passing the ball off to his teammate all in the same process.
And Lillard wasn't done. Gerald Henderson took the ball, dribbled right under the free-throw line and missed the jumper as Harrison Barnes came up to contend the shot. Curry snagged the rebound and, once again, Golden State was off and running on the break. Curry, high above the three-point line in the right wing, had Klay Thompson setting up to his right, and Andre Iguodala and Barnes sprinting down the weak side and into the paint.
He went to loft the pass into Iguodala's path for the finish and suddenly Lillard was there, this time batting the ball down with his right arm while falling backward. The Blazers recovered the possession.
His damage on the offensive end is nothing new -- this game just saw an extreme, spiteful version of it. He often took what the defense was willing to give him, like when he drove at Iguodala seconds before the half and attracted the attention of Thompson and Green before squeezing a pass into the middle for Noah Vonleh to finish.
Other times, he took what he wanted, Lillard style, like when he pulled Curry into a screen before he drove into the paint against Marreese Speights and put his body into the big man to finish acrobatically under him and the trailing Curry.
He abused Curry with the dribble and step-back on more than one occasion. He froze the defense and created spaces for his teammates with small hesitation moves and drew several and-1s after screens by holding his dribble and baiting the defender into a desperation lunge. And the threes! Oh, he rained those down! So many of them and enough difficult circumstances -- off the dribble, defender draped over him, off one leg -- that Steve Kerr said he looked like Curry out there.
Kerr on Lillard: "He was phenomenal. He was great. Looked like Steph Curry out there."— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) February 20, 2016
But that's a detrimental comparison for Lillard. He doesn't look like Curry, or anyone else. This was his game and how he's always played. Mix that with the fierce scowling -- he barely celebrated any of his shots and looked unimpressed, if not vengeful, most of the night -- and permanent aura of the underdog and you have one of the best players in the league who is on a war path to prove himself to the world.
Fans often try to theorize who the next of some great will be. Is LeBron James the new Magic Johnson? Is Kobe Bryant the new Michael Jordan? Is Jimmer Fredette the new Pistol Pete? We often get it wrong. Players exist on their own planes and deserve to only be comparable to themselves and held against the limits of their individual ability.
But there are still times when it's hard not to link certain, similar attitudes, and it's a bit funny to see Bryant voted into his last NBA All-Star Game as a favor while Lillard is unjustly kept out. Lillard shares so much of Bryant's -- and others of that mold -- angst and fire: taking every ranking/voting as a personal slight and using it as motivation; the self-belief that borders on narcissism; the fearlessness and the dogma that he will not beg the world to see him, but will instead become so great that they will have no choice but to acknowledge him.
I don't care what they see https://t.co/zhDhzAsvot— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) February 20, 2016
Players like that love nothing more than to be underestimated.
Damian Lillard feeds off doubt.
He's a giant-killer by nature, and it seems the bigger the enemy and the more the audience lacks belief, the stronger his resolve grows. One can only hope Lillard is perpetually unsatisfied so he can not only push himself to the fullest of his abilities, but because it's super fun to watch him utterly confuse and annihilate the best team in the NBA.
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