Damian Lillard had a message for the world as he walked off the court on Tuesday night after tying his career-high with 61 points in the Trail Blazers' crucial 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks: "Put some respect on my f------ name." After a performance like that, it's hard to do anything but.
Even for him, Lillard is simply on another level right now. His 61-point, 5-rebound, 8-assist showing against the Mavericks was his second straight game with at least 50 points, and his third with at least 45 in the bubble. He's now the only players in Portland history with back-to-back 50-point nights and has moved ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time 50-point games leaderboard with 11.
Over the first seven games in Orlando, he's now averaging a remarkable 37 points, 9.3 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals, while shooting 48.5 percent from the field, and 41.7 percent from the 3-point line. Thanks to his leadership, the Blazers are 5-2, and have made up a 3.5-game deficit to overtake the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. If they beat the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, they'll maintain that advantage for this weekend's play-in tournament.
In a difficult season, in which he's had to put the Blazers on his back every single night, Lillard appears to be saving his best for last. Only someone operating with his type of confidence would even dare take this shot.
He didn't need outrageous bounces to score most of his points in this one, though. Here's a closer look at how he was able to destroy the Mavericks by picking on Kristaps Porzingis.
On the very first play of the game, the Blazers ran a high pick-and-roll with Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, and Porzingis just kind of stood there and let Lillard pull up for a simple mid-range jumper. It was a foreboding start for Dallas.
All night long, the Blazers ran high screen after high screen involving Lillard and Nurkic, and the Mavericks had zero answers. If Porzingis dropped, as he often did, Lillard would pull up for jumpers. Just watch this compilation. There's not even much to break down here. It's just a high screen with Nurkic, Porzingis sits back and Lillard shoots.
The problem for Dallas is that the other option is having Porzingis step up, but he just doesn't have the lateral quickness to contain Lillard that far from the basket. When Porzingis did try that, the Blazers star blew right past the big man for easy finishes at the rim. Again, there's not much to break down in these clips. The Blazers space the floor, Lillard's man gets wiped out by the screen, he weaves his way around Porzingis and gets a lay-up.
On the one hand, this was a masterful performance by Lillard. He's playing at an extremely high level and deserves all the credit for the way he willed his team to victory. At the same time, Porzingis and the Mavericks didn't exactly put on a defensive clinic.
Lillard is in a zone where you can't give him any space at all, and the fact that they continued to drop and drop and drop, even well into the fourth quarter, was bizarre. No one wants to give up lay-ups, but at least if you step up and make Lillard put the ball on the deck, it gives Porzingis a chance to influence the shot, or for help defense to arrive. Letting him walk into open jumpers is just giving away free points.
The good news for the Mavericks is that even if the Blazers do end up making the playoffs, they couldn't face each other until the Western Conference finals, so they probably won't have to see him again this season. Other teams, however, should take this as another reminder of what Lillard can do if your pick-and-roll defense isn't on point.