When Isaiah Thomas was named an All-Star in February, one of the first people he heard from was Portland’s Damian Lillard. The two aren’t particularly tight, but they do exchange text messages every now and then.
Each has had the kind of success in the NBA few envisioned when they came into the league, and it is that ability to overcome the odds that has formed a bond between these point guards who will face off tonight when the Blazers host the Boston Celtics.
There’s plenty of items to check off and be concerned about for the Boston Celtics if they are to sweep the head-to-head series with Portland for the first time since the 2010-2011 season. At the top of that list?
Finding a way to limit Lillard who like Thomas, finds various ways to motivate himself.
“You can say it’s similar,” Thomas told reporters on Thursday. “He went to a small school. He was doubted. Nobody thought he’d be as good as he is now. I think that’s what motivates him to just keep going.”
When the Western Conference All-Star reserves were announced in February, Lillard was not among those chosen by the coaches despite being among the league’s top-10 scorers on a team that had exceeded the expectations of many at that time (and continue to do so) following LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to leave Portland and sign with the San Antonio Spurs.
A 24.3 points per game scorer going into the All-Star break, Lillard has elevated his scoring game and has averaged 27.7 points since then which ranks fourth in the NBA.
“Him not being an all star this year and him not being one last year at first and then the injury happened he became an all-star,” Thomas said. “I bet those type of things motivate him and those are the same things I go through.”
Lillard has endeared himself to many fans, including Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. And Lillard’s narrative – played at small school but has quickly established himself as one of the game’s best players – is one that in some ways parallels the success the Celtics have had despite few outside the locker room or front-office anticipating.
“I think it’s the same thing with guys on our team,” Stevens told reporters on Thursday. “I was telling Evan (Turner) yesterday, just the rankings of high school players coming out. Evan wasn’t the most highly sought after player at one point in his career. He became that over time. What’s the difference between the 100th ranked player and 101? 101’s pissed he’s not ranked and 100 feels pretty good about himself. There’s a lot of that.
Stevens added, “Lillard is a great example of that. I love Lillard. I think he’s a terrific player. At some point, it becomes about what you do on the floor and not what everyone talks about or perception.”
Thomas added, “He shows no back down. That's his background and that's where he comes from. We come from similar places where nothing was ever given to us and he's a hell of a player. I love competing against him.”