Real recognize real: Damian Lillard praises Zach LaVine's record-smashing performance against the Hornets


As the old saying goes: real recognizes real.

That adage was in full fruition at Monday morning’s visitor shootaround in advance of the Bulls’ matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. Of course, just two nights removed from Zach LaVine’s record-smashing 49-point barrage in Charlotte, the first questions posed to Blazers cornerstone Damian Lillard were related to LaVine’s night. 

“It was fun to see,” Lillard said. “Any time you see that type of performance, you hope that it comes in a win. And I think how they just came up big hitting three after three, you know, he hit a couple tough ones.

“He has that type of talent, that type of ability to have a night like that.”

Words like that carry a special weight coming from Lillard, who has had his share of explosive scoring performances. Now in his eighth season in the league, Lillard already has five 50-point games to his name (plus a 60-pointer earlier this month) and two with ten three-pointers made.

He also, lest we forget, is responsible for two of the most iconic postseason moments in recent memory, with separate buzzer-beating, series-clinching slingshots against the Rockets in 2014 and the Thunder last season. 

Though not of the same consequence, LaVine’s 13 three-pointers and game-winning step-back heave with 0.8 seconds remaining (his 27th points of the fourth quarter) on Saturday were thrillingly Lillard-esque in their own right.

“For a player that's as talented, as good as he is, I don't think it's hard — once you see the ball go in a few times — to get hot,” Lillard said.

The Hornets learned that lesson the hard way:

What stood out to Lillard the most, though, were the circumstances under which LaVine authored the game of his career.

“I think the thing that's most impressive to me is that he got benched the game before and then you come back and you can still have your mind in the right place and still put together that type of performance,” Lillard said.

In his eyes, that brand of perseverance is ultimately the mark of a leader. 

“I think that's a separator, you know, being able to have that type of mentality,” Lillard said. “He could have easily came out and pouted and not showed up for his teammates, but he responded in a kind of way that a player at his level should.”

LaVine’s hot hand and — at least for one game — enhanced defensive intensity will face a tough test against the Blazers’ star-studded backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum Monday night.

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