Three things to know: Damian Lillard continues to struggle, as does Portland
Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.
1) Damian Lillard’s struggles continue but he embraces challenge
Coming off an Olympics where he won gold playing through injury, Damian Lillard entered this season excited to play for new coach Chauncey Billups and help the Trail Blazers reach a new level.
Instead, October proved to be a horror movie for Lillard and the Trail Blazers. That continued into November on Monday night, when Lillard shot 7-of-20 overall, 2-of-9 from 3, and the Trail Blazers fell to a 76ers squad without Ben Simmons (mental health), Joel Embiid (rest) and Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols), 113-103.
Lillard is shooting 34.9% to start the season and 23.1% from beyond the arc (he is a career 37.3% from 3). Combine his struggles with a still bottom-10 Trail Blazers defense — I guess it wasn’t all the coach, Neil Olshey — and Portland has stumbled out of the gate with a 3-4 record.After the loss Monday, Lillard admitted his struggles but said he saw it as an opportunity. Here are his postgame quotes, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
“I always look at struggles as an opportunity to show my true character…
“When things go great there’s a lot of praise that goes along with that. A lot of people give you a lot of credit. They speak highly of you on social media, TV. ‘Oh Dame had 60, Dame had 50.’ They speak really highly of you. But I think it says more when you’re going through something and s*** is kind of hitting the fan and you’re struggling and everybody’s got something to say and to me the real ones, they can keep on trucking and keep on going and still find a way to get the job done…
“So, personally, I embrace that. It’s not fun. It’s not easy but it’s part of my DNA. That’s how I got to this position. I’m not angry about it. I’m frustrated with it. I do see it as a challenge and it’s one I accept and I know I’ll come out on top like I always do.”
You have to love that competitive fire. It’s why Lillard is one of the elite guards in the game.
Seven games into the season is far too early to dismiss Lillard or the Trail Blazers, who are adjusting to life under Billups. That transition from the Terry Stotts era may be part of the challenge, but this is also a Trail Blazers roster with almost no margin for error in a deep West. Lillard struggling hits them hard. So does a defense that continued to fall apart Monday night, giving up 23 to Seth Curry on a night all his misses came from 3 but he got the shots he wanted inside the arc, while George Niang added 21 off the bench.
The trade rumors will continue to swirl around Portland until Lillard finds his groove and the defense isn’t Swiss cheese.
Along those lines: You’ve got to hand it to Philadelphia fans, who tried to recruit Lillard by cheering him before the game and breaking out “we want Lillard” chants during the game.
There is no video evidence Daryl Morey led that chant.
Lillard was having none of it, saying after the game he heard the chants and “I know what it is and I know what it’s about. But I’m a Trail Blazer. I appreciate the love. I appreciate the respect that they showed and the desire or whatever but I’m 10 toes in Rip City.”
2) Come-from-ahead loss to Bulls has Marcus Smart, Celtics frustrated
Boston appeared to be in control Monday night, up 19 with just a couple of minutes left in the third quarter at home against Chicago. Then Zach LaVine got hot, the Bulls won the fourth quarter 39-11 shooting 13-of-16, and they picked up a quality road win 128-114. DeMar DeRozan continues to fit well in Chicago and scored 37, LaVine finished with 26, and Chicago is 6-1 with wins over Utah and Boston. The start of the season could not be going much better for the Bulls.
It’s the opposite for the Celtics, who are 2-5 after Monday’s ugly loss.
Marcus Smart was frustrated and said the “Jays” — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — have to pass more and get teammates involved (Brown and Tatum dominated the ball late and were a combined 1-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter Monday).
“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen. Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball...
“That’s something that they’re going to learn. They’re still learning. We’re proud of the progress they’re making, but they’re going to have to make another step and find ways to create for themselves and others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game... It’s something we’ve been asking them to do and they’re learning.”
Smart has a point. Some of that falls on new coach Ime Udoka, but it was the same before under Brad Stevens. When the Celtics get to crunch time in games, they bring the ball up slowly, try to force a mismatch for Tatum or Brown, then run isolation plays. It’s slow and predictable.
It’s also just one of the problems in Boston, where the defense is ranked 27th in the league to start the season. A lot of the issues in Boston can improve — the ball can move more on offense, the defense should be better — but it’s also clear that in a deeper East Boston needs more talent on the roster to compete with the best teams. More help up front, and shot creation in particular (you know, guys like Evan Fournier or Gordon Hayward or Kemba Walker, all of whom are having quality seasons for other teams right now).
Brad Stevens has made some good moves in the big chair upstairs — Al Horford has been the Celtics’ third-best player this season, and that ranking may actually be too low — but he’s got a lot more to do to get the Celtics back up to the top half of the East.
3) Toronto, New York celebrate 75th anniversary of the NBA’s first game (and Raptors get a win)
What was the first game in NBA history?
On Nov. 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers traveled north of the border to play the then Toronto Huskies at the Maple Leaf Gardens. It was the first game of the Basketball Association of America, which three years later combined with another league to become the National Basketball Association.
The Knicks got the win that night, 68-66.
Seventy-five years later, the NBA got New York and Toronto together again — this time in Madison Square Garden — to celebrate that inaugural game. The Knicks broke out the history for the night.
This time around, the Raptors got the 113-104 win behind 36 points from OG Anunoby. Julius Randle had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Knicks.
There is no chance that on that November night in 1946 the organizers could have had any idea what the NBA would become — a national and global sports powerhouse with some of the world’s best athletes getting paid millions and millions (courtside seats at that first game were $2.50). The NBA has evolved into something worth celebrating over the past 75 years.
Highlights of the night:
Did anyone know Orlando rookie Franz Wagner had this in him? That is dunk of the year material.
Last night’s scores:
Cleveland 113, Charlotte 110
Indiana 131, San Antonio 118
Philadelphia 113, Portland 103
Atlanta 118, Washington 111
Chicago 128, Boston 114
Toronto 113, New York 104
Memphis 106, Denver 97
Orlando 115, Minnesota 97
L.A. Clippers 99, Oklahoma City 94