Damian Lillard says Blazers must 'keep our heads down and keep working'
Damian Lillard led his team to a second win at home against the Thunder. After the Trail Blazers' 114-94 win over OKC, Lillard talked about his matchup with Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, the importance of defense, and getting CJ McCollum going offensively.
You seem to relish defending Russell Westbrook. Do you think that’s true?
I really don’t have a choice but to embrace it. That team is going to go as far as him and Paul George. We can try to score points and all that stuff, but if we don’t defend them, they come out there believing and they’re coming after us, you don’t have much of a chance, so our minds are made up that we’re going to take that challenge. And our season is on the line, so that’s probably why it looks different than it might look any other time.
In the third quarter Westbrook missed a 3-pointer and then you hit a really deep one and you went up six. What was going through your mind then?
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I was just excited. At that point, we came into the third quarter, it was a tie game, and in the locker room we kept saying, ‘We’ve got to turn it up. We’ve got to keep turning it up and keep playing better on the defensive end.’ And when we came out in the third quarter and we were actually doing it, and we were getting out in transition, and even when we missed shots, we were getting stops and pushing it at them, and I just felt like it was turning in our favor. So I liked that the most. It wasn’t about a deep 3 or anything like that. It was about everything they got on offense, they either worked for it or we were getting stops, and we know that it was going to give us our best chance.
How do you maintain a sustainable brand of basketball through four quarters?
I think offensively we were just executing well. Even when we aren’t making shots, we’re getting quality shots, making the right plays, putting the ball where it needs to go based off of how they’re defending us. Two guys come to the ball, we’re hitting the open man. If somebody pulls over, we’re hitting the weak side, and make or miss, those are the shots that you want to get. And you’ve got to keep trusting those right plays to make sure guys know that we have confidence in them. And over the course of a game, shots are going to fall. I think that’s what we’re seeing on the offensive end: everybody’s a part of it, we’re making the right pass, swing, swing, passing ahead, everything that we’re doing offensively is keeping everybody involved, and it’s also making them pay for giving so much attention to the ball. And defensively it’s just being on top of it. Our focus has been there, recognizing play calls – when they call a play we’re echoing it to each other. We know what direction to send guys, we know tendencies, we’ve been on top of everything that we need to be on top of as far as our preparation, and as long as we do that, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.
How did you feel like you handed playing defense tonight, especially against Russell Westbrook?
In the NBA it’s about team defense. Guys are so good at scoring the ball and making plays. Even when you play good defense sometimes guys are still going to score, and it just makes it a team thing. Early in my career I was criticized a lot about my defense, and a lot of times young players int eh NBA struggle because you don’t know the NBA lingo, you don’t know the terms, you don’t know what to expect. And as my career’s gone on, I can recognize teams’ plays, I know I’m more familiar with players’ tendencies, just more up to speed. If I hear, ‘away,’ I know it’s a wide pin down. If it’s thumb up, I just know the terms, so I’m ahead. I know what’s coming. And that’s half the battle is just knowing what’s coming and having your mind engaged. And the other part is just effort and caring about it. I’ve always had the effort, I’ve always cared about it. And now I’m a few years deeper into the league, and I recognize stuff faster. I know what’s coming. I know what guys like to do. I’m not watching film to see highlights of myself; I’m watching film to (see) how can I take advantage of the other team? How can I give myself a better chance to play against the other team? And a lot of it is defensively, going over stuff with coach (David) Vanterpool and then going out there and taking a challenge, not backing down. And I think the last few seasons I’ve been much better defensively. It hasn’t been just one game or anything like that. I’ve been taking the challenge, and I’ve been much smarter about that.
You’re not a team that’s known for turning opponents over, but tonight you turned the Thunder over 16 times for 23 points. How does that happen?
Like I said, it’s the preparation. We talk about, if a guy comes off a screen and we trap him, the weak side needs to be pulled over. And if they throw it over the weak side, we need to be stunting for each other, playing physical, and all those small things. When you’re in the right place and you’re doing the right things that you prepared for, a lot of times the ball ends up in your hands. There’s been times where we’re keeping the ball on the side and the guy is riding him on the baseline, and the help comes over, and they might jump in the air and they’re looking for outlets, and we’re pulled over on the weak side and the ball is there. You’ve got your hands active like we’ve been talking about, they make a pass, and just because your hand is where it needs to be, you deflect it. Just stuff like that. We’ve been, like I said, just really sharp in our preparation and going out there and executing. It’s not like we went out there and said, ‘Alright, we’re going to come out here and try to get steals now.’ I just think we’ve been sharp. And a lot of things have come for us in a positive way because of that.
How does it feel to defend home court and go up 2-0?
I know it seems like a long time ago, but I’ve had experienced being up 2-0 before. My second year in the league, we won the first two games on the road. We came home like, ‘OK, we can get this third game,’ and we were feeling good about ourselves. So obviously I know that feeling, but after our past two experiences, I’m happy about it, but I really don’t care. I know how quickly things can change. I know that a series doesn’t start until you win a game on the road. And I also know how capable their team is. So, we’ve got to maintain our focus, stay sharp in the things that we’ve been sharp in, and understand that how well we played int eh first game and the second game is not going to be good enough in the third game, especially on their home floor. So, we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep working.
You’ve seen CJ McCollum get going early. When do you know that he’s got it going?
I recognize it right away. When I see him call for the ball. A lot of times he’ll be on the weak side, but when he’s putting his hand up, waving for the ball, see one go in, then he hit a tough one, and when I start seeing him go side to side and moving guys around, that’s when I’m like, ‘OK, I need to make sure I stay aggressive, but I need to make sure I pitch the ball to him and let him go as often as possible. Not only because I know what he’s capable of, going off offensively, but also because I know that it’s going to take pressure off of me, and it’s going to make it easier for me. So, I recognize it right away. As soon as I saw how the ball was in his hands, moving side to side, I was like, ‘He’s locked in and ready.’
When Jusuf Nurkic went down, people doubted whether you’d win a first-round series if at all. What do you have to say to the people who didn’t believe in you?