There’s no secret as to why Damian Lillard was a little bothered on Friday following his game against Oklahoma City. After winning the first two games at home, the Blazers dropped Game 3 against the Thunder 120-108. But though his team still lead the series 2-1, and he was coming off a solid statistical night, there were other things that bothered Lillard about that game—namely, how the loss happened.
See, the Oklahoma City defeated Portland because the “score an absurd amount of your threes” strategy actually worked. The Thunder shot 15-for-29 (51.7 percent) from behind the arc in Game 3, a far cry from Games 1 and 2 where they shot a combined 10-of-61 (16.4 percent) from that same area of the court. Allowing that high-accuracy shooting in the postseason is a result of either poor defense, or horrendous luck. Regardless, seeing every shot your opponent takes from downtown go in has to be disheartening. Even worse, however, is when they really milk their celebrations as it happens.
It was clear that the Thunder wanted to put an exclamation point on the incredible shooting night they were having, so nearly every chance they got down the stretch, they rubbed what was happening in the Blazers’ face—especially Lillard’s. That plan became clear in the third quarter when the swing on Russell Westbrook’s “rock the baby” celebration looked like it could knock out two normal people standing three feet away from him.
Then it was Dennis Schroder who got in on the taunting action when Damian Lillard went up to take some free throws. After missing the first one, Schroder went right behind Lillard and did the Blazer’s signature “Dame time” celebration.
Westbrook then followed this up a few moments later when, after scoring a contested shot over Lillard, he just started talking trash in the Portland guard’s direction and furiously pointing at him.
But the final act, the one that some folks might find particularly disrespectful, came as the final buzzer was approaching. Paul George got an unguarded outlet pass with less than two seconds left and punctuated the game with a double-clutch reverse dunk. Objectively, it ruled because that kind of athleticism is always cool to see. After the game, however, George was a lot less willing to talk about the move than Lillard was—and he even appeared a bit more bothered about the question, too.
The difference in those answers exemplified the difference of mindsets of the two teams. The Thunder are, at least outwardly, trying to show that they mean business and that they won’t get pushed around this series. The Trail Blazers are using this game to learn from their mistakes, put the loss behind them and move on. But from the postgame conferences alone, it’s clear which side understands that Game 3 was pretty damn flukey. The Thunder averaged 35 percent on threes as a team this year, and are sitting at 27.8 percent in the playoffs. Saturday’s performance wasn’t normal. It’s a context that makes taunts a lot less effective, as Lillard made clear in his presser as he seemed to brush off all of the showboating Oklahoma City did.
Of course, it’s always easier to ignore those kinds of insults when you know the chances of you scoring 40-50 points in a playoff game are much higher than your opponents ever making half of their three-point attempts again.