Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers put a royal whooping on the Golden State Warriors last night up in Portland. Yes, the Warriors were uncharacteristically sloppy and bad. Sure, they fumbled away 13 turnovers in the third quarter alone, the most in any quarter in any game since 2008. Their bench didn’t give them much of anything, they only shot 39 percent from the field, and looked oddly disjointed.
But look at this shit.
That there is a one-man, 9-0 run in under a minute to put Golden State away for good in the fourth quarter. Steph Curry is the league’s best at making solo runs like this, but when Lillard’s at his best, like he was yesterday, he can go Human Torch on an opponent as well as anyone, even Steph. He has this immutable swagger about him at all times, and when he’s feeling it, he’s among the most fun players to watch. When Lillard’s hot, his defender knows he’s going to pull up, his teammates know it, everyone in the arena knows it, but that doesn’t stop him pulling up anyway, from more or less wherever he wants. His range seems to balloon as the game gets tighter or as he gets hotter.
Hell, he had another similar run to start the game, either scoring or setting up the first nine Blazers field goals. Steve Kerr paid him the biggest compliment he could, saying, “He looked like Steph Curry out there.”
His line (51 points, seven assists, six steals, with 64 percent shooting, and nine threes) is one of the best in Blazers history. He scored his 51 in 31:06 of playing time, which, as /r/NBA notes, is the fastest anyone has gotten to 50 in NBA history, beating Kobe by 14 seconds. It’s that much more impressive that he roasted one of the best defenses in the NBA.
The 137-105 final marked the worst loss a defending champion has suffered since the Bulls whooped the Heat by 42 in 2006. 32 is also the biggest losing margin the Bulls had in their 72 win 1995-1996 season. There’s perhaps a case to be made, and ESPN’s Ethan Strauss makes it, that, considering Festus Ezeli’s injury, Mareese Speights’ defensive ineptitude, and Andre Bogut’s fragility, the Warriors might need another big guy. Jason Thompson hasn’t done squat this year, and Kevon Looney ain’t there yet. Rumors have them sniffing around Anderson Varejao, who’s basically a worse Bogut.
But there aren’t any true maladies to diagnose the Warriors with. They’re a tad thin up front, but they’re not going to play well every single game, and when a dip in form coincides with a star like Damian Lillard going supernova, you’ll lose a game here and there. The Warriors have always had turnover problems, and their extra sloppiness last night is probably due to time off more than anything. Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston aren’t both going to lay eggs in the same game Steph Curry struggles with foul trouble and the opposing team’s best player is enraged into a career night off an all-star snub. Even historically great teams catch opponents on good nights.
As for Portland, they’re half a game out of the six seed but they’re also the same margin away from getting bounced out of the playoffs. The Mavericks, Jazz, and Rockets are all clumped together in and around the bottom of the playoffs, and a now Marc Gasol-less Memphis team could soon join them there. You’d obviously have to give Golden State the edge in a hypothetical playoff matchup, but if Lillard takes it upon himself to personally beat his hometown Warriors (and he’ll certainly try), it’ll be about as entertaining as a 1 v. 8 series gets.
Beyond Lillard, the Blazers have a stockpile of flawed-yet-athletic power forwards who run and dunk and rebound, as well the league’s most convincing Lillard knockoff (C.J. McCollum), and a smart coach. I haven’t enjoyed a mediocre team this much in a while, especially since they were supposed to be terrible this season. Blooding a new group of players in the playoffs can only help them going forward, even if they just end up a bug on Golden State’s windshield. But as Lillard’s wholesale destruction of the Warriors showed, they’re not going to roll over for anyone.
Photo via AP