Damian Lillard Thrives in the Bubble

Scott Bamforth is aware of Damian Lillard higher than most. For two seasons, they shared the backcourt as teammates at Weber State. Lillard ultimately left as an N.B.A. lottery decide whereas Bamforth, after breaking Lillard’s faculty data for Three-point capturing, landed in Spain a 12 months later.

They nonetheless preserve in contact by way of textual content message, Bamforth stated, and get collectively for the occasional low season exercise. But whereas little about Lillard surprises him anymore — Bamforth knew his former teammate was certain for giant issues — Bamforth has detected a delicate change in Lillard’s demeanor in latest weeks.

“You can see there’s a difference in him where he truly knows and believes he’s the best player on the court every time he plays,” Bamforth stated. “There’s just no doubt in his mind. It doesn’t matter if he’s on the court with LeBron James, or if he’s on the court with James Harden — anyone. And I feel like everyone else knows it, too.”

On Tuesday evening, Lillard left his imprint on one other opponent. In main the Portland Trail Blazers to a 100-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers (and the aforementioned James) in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff sequence, Lillard collected 34 factors and 5 assists. Game 2 of their best-of-seven sequence is Thursday evening.

“The job is far away from being done,” Lillard stated, “but I’m proud of our effort.”

Bamforth, 31, watched the sport from his house in Tempe, Ariz., the place he was making ready for his journey this week to France, the place he will play this coming season for Le Mans of LNB Pro A, the country’s top league. Lillard’s exploits have been both familiar and new to Bamforth — somehow even more explosive, somehow even more refined.

They were all on display during one stretch of the fourth quarter, which Lillard kicked off by burying a 30-foot jumper — and dancing to “Blow the Whistle” by the rapper Too Short as he settled into his defensive stance at the other end. A few possessions later, Lillard pulled up from 36 feet to swish a 3-pointer over the top of the Lakers’ Anthony Davis. Then, on Portland’s next trip up the court, he passed out of swarming pressure to Carmelo Anthony, who drained a 3-pointer of his own.

The right shots. The right passes. And another tour de force for a point guard who has fashioned the N.B.A.’s bubble at Walt Disney World into his personal stage.

“He can dance all he wants if he’s going to shoot from half-court and score 30,” the Blazers guard CJ McCollum said.

Lillard’s theatrics punctuated another wild day for the league, which was true to form: Everything about the bubble has been odd and different, and Tuesday was no exception. For the first time since 2003, both No. 1 seeds lost their opening games of the playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks, the top seed in the East, were the first to take a tumble, losing, 122-110, to the Orlando Magic as all the Bucks not named Giannis Antetokounmpo combined to shoot 41.5 percent from the field.

Bamforth recalled how they were working out a couple of summers ago when Lillard pulled him aside. He had noticed Bamforth’s footwork coming off a screen — Bamforth had dribbled to his right before elevating for a jump shot — and wanted to know everything about how he had done it in microscopic detail.

“He was like, ‘If I can get that pull-up going to my right, it’s over,’” Bamforth recalled him saying. “And I kind of thought I had already learned that move from him. Like, ‘What are you even talking about? You’re Dame Lillard!’ But if he sees something that he can improve, he’s going to ask — and he’ll ask anyone.”

It was a small but significant moment that stuck with Bamforth, because it got at the essence of the Damian Lillard he had always known: his determination, his dedication.

Lillard’s path through the N.B.A. has included its share of postseason disappointments. Nothing has come easily for the Blazers. Now, they have another opportunity in front of them, an unexpected one given the circumstances — but one they earned. Lillard seems intent on making the most of it.

“He’s found another level,” Bamforth said.

Source link Nytimes.com

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