NBA Playoffs: The rise of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers
Who comes to your mind when you talk about the best players in basketball? It's usually Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and so on. But with yesterday night's performance and THAT SHOT against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it is time to say that Damian Lillard has for sure arrived at the big stage. Yes, it is Dame Time! He, in fact, did something similar 5 years back but the Houston Rockets in 2014 were not as good as OKC now and he didn't score 50 points in a playoff game that night!
If you have been more than just an average NBA viewer over the past few years, you would have noticed how the Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the most consistent teams in the league. In fact, they have been the 3rd seed in an incredibly tough conference for 2 years in a row now and have made it to the playoffs for 6 consecutive years.
During this time, Lillard has been their best player by far and he has been improving over the years too. He's averaged more than 25 points and close to 7 assists per game for more than 4 years now. That is an elite player's statistics. Now that he's got his moment, it is finally time to talk about Lillard among the most elite players in the world.
The Blazers have done exceptionally well in the past 3-4 years to keep building slowly and keep the core of Lillard and CJ McCollum in tact when they could have easily given to the emotions of getting swept in the playoffs for two consecutive years.
With Jusuf Nurkic also performing to his potential this year, they could have been serious contenders to reach the conference finals. However, his injury raises questions of how far this team can go. But with Lillard playing at the level at he is right now, who would bet against his team beating either the Spurs or Denver to reach the Western Conference Finals.
If Houston does the unthinkable and beats the Warriors in the second round, Lillard has a winning record of 2-1 against the Rockets this year and would have the confidence to beat them in a best of 7 series with home court advantage to reach the NBA Finals. If that happens, Lillard's rise to the absolute top of the game would be complete. We only have to wait a month more to see how that turns out.