Blazers’ Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum are hungry to even series with Warriors
‘We have to be in attack mode the entire time’
Damian Lillard had an Easter meal waiting for him within miles of Oracle Arena in his hometown of East Oakland, California, to help him feel better after a tough day.
“I don’t know where I’m going to eat, but I’m eating at somebody’s house,” Lillard said.
C.J. McCollum had dinner plans at the historic House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. Even so, Lillard offered an invitation to join him for a soul food meal with family and friends.
McCollum kept his options open as he joked to his esteemed Portland Trail Blazers backcourt mate: “I’m always ready to eat. … I know black people always eat late.”
Lillard scored 34 points, nailed three 3-pointers, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists in 39 minutes. McCollum scored a career-high 41 points with four 3-pointers and grabbed eight rebounds in 40 minutes. McCollum played the best game of his NBA career, considering his output and what was at stake.
Lillard and McCollum are the first Blazers teammates to score 34-plus in a playoff game since Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter had 36 and 41 points, respectively, in a win over the Utah Jazz on May 19, 1992. That Blazers team defeated Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Jazz 119-102 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals before advancing to the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Drexler and Porter had help from starters Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams and reserves Danny Ainge and Clifford Robinson. Lillard and McCollum? Evan Turner and Moe Harkless tried, but it wasn’t enough against one of the most intimidating offenses the NBA has ever seen, with four All-Stars in Kevin Durant (32 points), Stephen Curry (29), Draymond Green (19 points, nine assists) and Klay Thompson (15).
“They are getting it done,” Porter told The Undefeated about Lilllard and McCollum. “Both are becoming two-way players. Both are big-time scorers, can shoot the 3-ball, have a midrange jumper and rim finish.”
Said Drexler to The Undefeated: “Lillard and McCollum are prime-time players. I love watching them play. They’ll need more help from their teammates to beat the Warriors.”
The Warriors are 5-0 against the Blazers this season, including a 45-point blowout in Oakland in December 2016. But there is potential much-needed post help for Lillard and McCollum in injured center Josuf Nurkic.
The 7-foot, 280-pounder averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 20 regular-season games with Portland after being acquired from the Denver Nuggets. The Blazers were 14-6 with Nurkic, who played a big role in the franchise landing the eighth and final Western Conference playoff seed. Nurkic has been out since March 30 after suffering a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg against the Houston Rockets. Portland coach Terry Stotts said Nurkic could play in the series but he was not sure when. Game 2 is Wednesday in Oakland.
“We have a guy in the post we can go to instead of playing so much on the perimeter, instead of using so much energy,” Lillard said. “With me and C.J. on the perimeter, we throw him the ball and let him go to work. … Also, he’s a good playmaker from the box.”
Said McCollum: “He’s a big part of our success. He does a lot of different things. But no excuses. Whoever is out there, you’ve got to go play.”
Nurkic or no Nurkic, don’t expect Lillard and McCollum to back down from the Warriors’ challenge.
Lillard and McCollum came to the NBA from mid-major colleges in Weber State and Lehigh, respectively. They flourish with the odds against them, as they did snatching the last West playoff berth. Against Curry and Thompson, often regarded as the best backcourt in the NBA, Lillard and McCollum were superior in Game 1. They displayed swagger as McCollum stared at the Warriors’ bench when he and his backcourt mate went into halftime in a tied game with a combined 47 points. McCollum and the usually quiet Lillard also exchanged trash-talking words with Green, the outspoken Warriors forward.
“We’re not scared of nobody,” McCollum said. “It’s just a game man. We are all humans. … This is how I was raised. Growing up was harder than this. This is the easy part. You just show up, you do your work and you hoop. The struggle of going to a small school? That’s the struggle. Now we’re here.
“We know what it takes. Hard work. You’ve got to work hard work every day, no matter.”
McCollum said that he and Lillard “bring their hard hat and come to work every day.” Even as talented as Lillard and McCollum are on the hardwood, however, they become shy when it comes to talking about whether they are underrated and lacking deserved attention.
“I ain’t got nothing to say about that. I just hoop,” McCollum said.
Said Lillard: “Why do you think that is? It’s not for me to say.”
The Blazers went into the fourth quarter tied at 88 before the Warriors pulled away, outscoring their foe 33-21 as Lillard and McCollum cooled. Having a combined 75 points in a 12-point loss would appear to be a downer for the Blazers. Not so, said Stotts.
“You should look at it the opposite way,” Stotts said. “I don’t think it’s demoralizing that we competed extremely well for three quarters. It takes four quarters to beat a great team. If anything, it showed that when we play at this level that we can play with them and we can beat them. I wouldn’t call it demoralizing. Certainly, it’s disappointing to lose the game.
“You go into the fourth quarter tied, but it’s a tough place to play, and I think that, if anything, it shows that the prospects are good. I think that we found ways to score. We just have to manage to score for four quarters. So, no, not demoralizing at all.”
Before heading out to Lillard’s home-cooked meal and McCollum’s fancy prime rib, they walked out of Oracle Arena confident and optimistic they will figure out a way to defeat Goliath.
“It’s always a challenge in the playoffs against one of the better teams in the NBA. One of the best teams historically. They protected home court in the first game, and now we have to go out there and compete in Game 2,” McCollum said.
Said Lillard: “We have to be in attack mode the entire time.”