Blazers G Damian Lillard says adversity part of the game
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Last season Damian Lillard became part of the highlight reel for the playoffs with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that catapulted the Trail Blazers out of the opening round for the first time in 14 years.
It's far different this season, as Lillard struggles to find his shot against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are up 2-0 against the Blazers in their first-round playoff series, which moves to Portland for Game 3 on Saturday night.
Lillard went 5 of 21 overall and 0 of 6 from 3-point range in the series opener, a 100-86 Portland loss. He was 5 of 16 and hit 1 of 5 outside the arc in the Blazers' 97-82 Game 2 loss on Wednesday. Seven of those points came on free throws.
''The looks that I am getting are the shots that I've got to be able to make. Some of them have been tough looks and the ones that are usually a shot that I'd knock down, you know when those don't fall, that makes it even tougher,'' Lillard said. ''I haven't played as well as I would like to in either of the first two games but I've just got to stick with it. It's obviously not helping my team and I've got to stick with it.''
Lillard has shot just 10-of-37 (27 percent) from the field in the first two games of the series, and is averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. For comparison, Lillard averaged 21 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists during the regular season.
Over the course of last season's playoffs, Lillard made 43.9 percent of his shots from the floor, including 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Lillard's statement-making and series-clinching 3-pointer came with 0.9 seconds in Game 6 of the first round against Houston. Following the shot, he grabbed the public address microphone at courtside and yelled ''Rip City!''
The Blazers were knocked out in the Western Conference semifinals by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
Lillard said following Game 2 that he's encountered his share of adversity. He was not heavily recruited out of high school in Oakland, California, landing at Weber State. But his play caught the Blazers' attention and the team selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
There have been disappointments along the way: Lillard wasn't among those selected to the 12-man U.S. roster for last summer's FIBA World Cup. This spring, he initially failed to make his second All-Star team, but was a last-minute replacement when Blake Griffin needed elbow surgery because of a staph infection.
''Last year I played really well from start to finish in the playoffs. I understand that it's not always going to be like that,'' he said. ''Even when I made the big shots, people say, `How are you able to be calm and do that?' And I always responded with: `Because I can handle when it doesn't go in. I can handle when it doesn't go in.'
''When things don't go well, that's when people be quick to kick you down and talk bad about you. But that's the way it goes. I know things will work out and everything will turn around.''
While last season the Blazers for the most part stayed healthy, this season they've struggled with injury - most notably to Lillard's backcourt teammate Wesley Matthews.
Matthews ruptured his Achilles in early March, and Portland has struggled to replace him. Not only was Matthews a key contributor averaging 15.9 points and 3.7 rebounds, but he was a spirited team cheerleader both on and off the court.
Arron Afflalo, acquired at the trade deadline from the Denver Nuggets, started 19 of 25 games following the trade in Matthews' place and averaged 10.6 points, but then he was sidelined by a strained right shoulder and missed the first two games of the playoffs.
Afflalo could be back for Game 3, providing a much-needed boost as the series shifts to the Moda Center.
''They did what they were supposed to. They protected their home floor for the first two games,'' Lillard said about the Grizzlies. ''That's why you play home court advantage, they're comfortable, the crowd is into it, you play with more confidence. They got the best of us the first two games, now we go back home and we've got to try to do the same thing.''