Dame Time

The bubble has been all about Lillard.

Jim Rome
August 17, 2020 - 9:13 am
Damian Lillard

USA Today

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I hate to say I told you so, but the Portland Trail Blazers played their way into the NBA playoffs. And they are scary as hell. I like to consider myself a fairly educated man: I did attend the Harvard of the West, UC Santa Barbara so forgive my grammar: but the blazers ain’t no 8. They ain’t no freaking 8! 

But let’s go back to the nearly three months ago, before the Blazers were in the playoffs, before Damian Lillard turned into a supernova, before the format for the bubble was even established.

Back in May, Lillard told Chris Haynes that he didn’t want to go into the bubble if he wasn’t going to have a chance to make the playoffs. He didn’t want to go down there just to fulfill some TV contract obligation or be the punching bag in a couple of tune-up games for the teams that would make the playoffs. He said that if he didn’t have a shot to play in the playoffs, he probably wouldn’t play. He didn’t say it like this, but I mean, for who, for what?

And I got it. I said at the time, he wasn’t looking for a way out, he was looking for a way IN. As in, he wasn’t looking to duck out of playing, he was looking for a way into the playoffs. And he was looking for that, because he knew something about himself and about his teammates.

"I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It's going to be hard to get going with no fans, you've been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘I haven't played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?' It's going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to [overperform]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, 'Oh, they're in the Western Conference finals.' It's room for that with this situation.”

So, he got his chance and he took it, and so did the rest of the Blazers. They won 5 of their last 6 games to get into the 8th seed. And that run included games of 45, 51, 61, and 42 from Lillard. And moments like this.

Damian Lillard from the Logo. Logo Lillard, if you need him. That is just a complete and total joke. I laugh every time I see it. Because there’s no way to defend that. If you’re going up against a guy who’s pulling up from barely inside midcourt and draining threes, you just have to shrug, go back to your hotel, and pack up your stuff and bounce. That’s all there is to it.

I’m not sure what’s more insane – Damian Lillard doing things like that or guys on other teams talking junk to him online. Because I could be wrong, but I feel like Paul George was jawing with Lillard on social media earlier in the bubble. I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with Paul George and thought he was a pretty sharp guy, but sharp guys don’t jaw like that at Damian Lillard, so did that really happen? Was Paul George really doing that? 

Because the last time Paul George and Damian Lillard met in a meaningful game, this happened.

A legendary moment, over Paul George, and then Lillard waved to Russell Westbrook and Paul George as they left the court. I know that had to sting, but if you’re PG, you just have to wear that.  HAVE….TO….WEAR…..THAT. Just like the Nets had to wear that Logo Lillard three. 

The bubble has been all about Lillard. He was the MVP of the seeding games, led his team to the playoffs, and dropped three new tracks on Saturday night. 

And the most impressive thing about the Blazers closing out their run to the playoffs on Saturday was that the win over Memphis wasn’t all about Lillard. Sure, he still had 31 and 10, but compared to what he’d been doing, that felt like he took a step back. 

It was about Yusuf Nurkic going for 22 points, 21 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks just hours after it was announced that his grandmother had died from Covid. 

And it was about CJ McCollum having 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and then going with a Mike Tyson reference to describe his busted back.

Playing in the bubble with a broken back and scoring 14 in the fourth quarter when it was needed most is tough as hell. Then again, what else would you expect? These Blazers are tough as hell. And scary as hell. And the last team you want to run into in the first round. 

In other words, the team you were warned about is real. And now they get the Lakers. And you know this is not a team the Lakers wanted to see in the first round. 

And yes, Portland has defensive issues. In their last six games, they’ve given up 115, 122, 121, 131, 133, and 122 points. 

I know that. But I also know they’ve won all but one of those games. Again, this ain’t no 8 seed. Well, maybe defensively, but definitely not OFFENSIVELY.

And they are used to playing in pressure packed moments. The last three seeding games, when their season was on the line, they won by three points, three points, and one point. And then the play-in game by four points. And they were in the conference finals last year, so they have that experience; and big game mentality.

Yes, nobody’s going to confuse them with the ’04 Pistons on defense or even the current Raptors and they don’t seem to have a defensive answer for wings or for LeBron James, but they have Damian Lillard. And it doesn’t matter whether the playoffs are in April through June or August through October, playoff time is Dame Time. And right now, no one is better, and while I’m not calling the upset outright, I can guarantee they’re going to give the Lakers hell. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they did beat them.