Blazers assistant David Vanterpool interviews for head position in Orlando

David Vanterpool

Blazers assistant David Vanterpool interviews for head position in Orlando

David Vanterpool, one of the young up-and-coming coaches on Terry Stotts' staff, interviewed Wednesday for the head coaching position in Orlando, Comcast Sportsbet Northwest has learned. 

Vanterpool, who has worked closely with All-Star Damian Lillard and burgeoning star CJ McCollum, has been in Portland for four seasons after spending two seasons in the front office of  the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he worked with now Magic general manager Rob Hennigan. 

A former standout guard at St. Bonaventure and who played 22 games with the Washington Wizards in the 2000-2001 season, Vanterpool is a hands-on coach who extends his advice beyond the court. Both Lillard and McCollum credit Vanterpool for schooling them not only about the ins-and-outs of offense and defense, but also in becoming better and more complete men.

 

Vanterpool, 43, has previously interviewed for head coaching positions. In 2013 he interviewed with Philadelphia and in 2015 he was a candidate in Denver. 

 

Thunder finally zero in on the pick-and-roll, but Trail Blazers like where they're at

Thunder finally zero in on the pick-and-roll, but Trail Blazers like where they're at

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After shooting under 18% in both of the first two games in their best of seven series against the Trail Blazers, OKC roared back in Game 3 by shooting 51.7% from deep as a team.

“They’re going to make shots from time to time. Did we expect them to shoot 50% from three? No. We’ve got to do a better job of running them off the line. We’ve got to continue to lock in on Paul George. We can live with some of those guys shooting threes. We’ll live with it,” CJ McCollum said.   

There’s no doubt the three-point shooting helped OKC beat the Blazers 120-108 on Friday night. But there were a few more factors that the Blazers pointed out in their postgame interviews.  

The free throw discrepancy was quite a lot. Oklahoma City attempted 15 more free throws for the game.

“They lived at the free throw line and we didn’t,” Damian Lillard said postgame.

But, as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned, one of the biggest differences in OKC’s approach was how they defended Lillard and how they defended the Blazers’ pick-and-roll. 

“Dame got hot in the third quarter. We were able to set some good screens on him and get him open, but it was clear from the beginning of the game that they were taking Dame and CJ out of our pick-an-rolls… They changed some match-ups. They took [Russell] Westbrook off of Dame and put him in the corner and had other guys guarding him, so we’ll look at film and see what we can do,” Stotts said.

Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter to help keep Portland within striking distance. He finished the game with 32 points on 10-of-21 points. He still felt like he was able to get to the hoop even with the Thunder’s adjustment.

“They got a little more aggressive on the ball. Instead of the big just trying to stay in front of me they were coming up a little higher. I noticed [Jerami] Grant in [the pick-and-roll defense], somebody that’s more agile, athletic, so maybe they could try to trap or be more aggressive. I thought I was still able to turn the corner. I think they just wanted me to get rid of the ball,” Lillard said.

“They were more aggressive, playing at home, a little bit more energy, a little desperate, and they did a better job of guarding us in the pick and roll early,” McCollum added.

The change on defense was just one of Maurice Harkless many surprises on the night.  

Harkless was in foul trouble for most of the game. He ended up getting ejected, but he didn’t realize it. Harkless said he thought he just fouled out, which he did, but then he was surprised to learn he had to head back to the locker room with 19.2 second remaining in the game because the referees thought he had thrown his mouthpiece.

The Trail Blazers starting small forward also couldn’t believe it took the Thunder so long to make the defensive adjustment on Lillard and McCollum.

“I think they tried to towards the end of the game… put Grant on Enes [Kanter] to try to get them a guy who is a little more active in the pick-and-roll. They were a lot more aggressive tonight, all night, in the pick-and-roll on Dame and CJ. We kind of expected that. I’m kind of surprised it took them until Game 3 to do it,” Harkless said.

While it stunned Harkless it took OKC this long, Thunder big man Steven Adams praised his team’s defense on the perimeter.

“The guards did a really job tonight, just getting in [and] influencing them one way. It makes the bigs’ job a lot easier, way, way easier, so they did a really good job tonight for the whole game. So, that’s what it was really. That was the difference I think from Game 1 [and] Game 2 to now,” Adams said. 

Here’s the thing though -- Lillard and the Blazers are still up 2-1 in the series and they are still feeling really good heading into Game 4 on Sunday.

“I think we’re still in a good place, still confident,” Harkless said.

“We defended well. We’ve just got to limit our turnovers, limit their second chance opportunities… I like where we’re at,” McCollum added. 

As for the Trail Blazer captain, Lillard is expecting and hoping for a similar style game on Sunday.

“I think we go into Game 4 liking where we are. It was a competitive game. We got to the fourth quarter and we had a shot. So, we want to make it that same type of game in Game 4,” Lillard said. 

Homecourt matters as Oklahoma City Thunder bounces back to beat Trail Blazers

Homecourt matters as Oklahoma City Thunder bounces back to beat Trail Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – You change the venue and often, you get a different result.

The Oklahoma City Thunder shot a miserable 16.4 percent from three-point range during the first two games in Moda Center, as the Trail Blazers took a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

But Friday night in OKC, the tide turned in a big way as the home team posted a 120-108 win. The Thunder knocked down 15 of its 29 shots from long range (51.7 percent).

And oh, by the way, in the two games at Portland, Oklahoma City managed to get to the foul line just three more times than the Trail Blazers. But in Friday’s game, OKC trooped to the free-throw line 15 more times than Portland.

And if you’ve been in the NBA very long, you certainly have grown to expect such things. Home teams get more of those 50-50 calls. Stuff happens.

“I’m not commenting on that,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said when asked a question about how his players handled the officiating – which isn’t exactly like asking him what he thought of the officiating.

But, you know. Fines and stuff. And it did seem the Blazers got very frustrated with the officiating during the fourth quarter.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game because so far this entire series has been really physical,” Damian Lillard said. “But you don’t get the benefit of the doubt on the road. I think on both sides, both teams played really physical and they lived at the free-throw line and we didn’t.”

There were plenty of other factors you could point to as reasons the Trail Blazers lost:

  • They led by a point after the first quarter but suffered through a horrible second quarter. In the second period, Portland made only 6 of 16 shots and had a whopping 10 turnovers.
  • They fell behind by 16 in the third quarter and had to burn a lot of energy to crawl back into the game, which they did when they tied it with 10:41 left in the game.
  • They had 18 turnovers for the night, which the Thunder turned into 18 points.
  • After blocking 15 shots in the first two games, they had only one Friday night.
  • While Lillard played Superman with 25 points in the third quarter and 32 in the game, he couldn’t find much help. Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu – Portland’s starting forwards – each made only three of their nine shots from the field and totaled three of their nine from three-point distance – on a night when they were left open once in a while by a defense that was all over Lillard and CJ McCollum.
  • Portland had the misfortune of catching Russell Westbrook on a night when he made four of his six three-pointers. He made just 29 percent of his three-point shots during the regular season.

It was once again a chippy game, with words being exchanged between players many times. Lillard and Westbrook continued to go at it and that got heated in the fourth quarter when both were barking at each other while Westbrook was handling the ball.

And Paul George, who should know better, dunked a ball as time expired (after the final horn, as it turned out) and some Portland players took exception to that. It's considered bad form when a team has a safe lead.

And this was once again a game that turned on three-point shooting. The team that has shot the best from three – and made the most three-pointers – has won each game.

“You can play really, really poorly but if you really make a lot of threes, regardless of this series or any series, I think you can always keep yourself in a game,” OKC Coach Billy Donovan said.

And for Portland, eight of its 12 threes came from two players, Lillard and McCollum. Aminu added three more and the Blazers got just one, by Rodney Hood, from their bench.

The series continues at the same site Sunday night.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder got their revenge in Game 3 after the Trail Blazers took a 2-0 advantage. 

OKC was looking to make it more of series in front of its home crowd and the fans were ready for it. The Thunder crowd was bringing the energy even before the game started. The fanbase welcomed back Enes Kanter with a loud applause during the pregame introductions, but that was the first and last time they gave any love to the big fella.

Early in the third quarter it looked as the Thunder were going to run away with this one. OKC’s biggest lead was 16 points.

Then, Damian Lillard happened...

Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter to help keep Portland within striking distance.

The Thunder’s lead dwindled down to just four points heading into the final period.  It was a hard fought battle in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder had the last word, defeating the Blazers.

Final Box Score: Thunder 120, Trail Blazers 108

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 3 loss:

1. A low scoring affair early

If it wasn’t for the Thunder’s three-point shooting in the first quarter, the start of the game would’ve been real rough for OKC. Yes, you heard that right.

Shooting on your home court can make all the difference and it sure did for Oklahoma City.

The tide turned for the Thunder from the perimeter. After shooting just over 15% from three in Game 1 and over 17% in Game 2, OKC started the game going 5-for-8 from deep. Yet, the Blazers still had a 22-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Playing at home really helped out shooting guard Terrance Ferguson. He went a perfect 3-for-3 before missing his first three-point attempt midway through the 3rd quarter.

2. It wasn’t pretty one

Neither team had a very clean offensive game, particular in the first half. Both teams were committing turnovers and there were plenty of offensive fouls to go around. 

But when you are the road team making it an ugly game can be an advantage just like the Godfather Dwight Jaynes pointed out.

To have 13-first half turnovers and only be shooting the ball 37.5% as a team on the road, Portland could’ve been a lot worse shape at halftime. The Thunder led by 10 at the break.

3. Fouls changed the game

Paul George had 10 points at halftime, but once the Blazers got into foul trouble he was able to get cleaner looks and was able to convert. Midway through the third quarter, Portland’s top defenders on George, Maurice Harkless and AL-Farouq Aminu both had been hit with four fouls each.

The foul trouble for Portland disrupted their defense, and in the end, the Blazers weren’t able to snag this one on the road.  

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 4 on Sunday night at 6:30pm pacific time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage starts at 5:30pm.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Game 3: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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Game 3: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Trail Blazers head into Game 3 against the Thunder, up 2-0 after winning Game 1 and then blowing out OKC in Game 2. The Thunder will look to make it more of series tonight in front of their home crowd.

Before Game 3 tipped off, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media.

Coach Donovan gave a lot of credit to Russell Westbrook and his work ethic, saying Westbrook always brings the “effort.”

“I think every coach wants this from their team – he gives effort, and I’ve said this befote there’s a comfort as a coach that you know your point guard is going to give everything he has while he is out there,” Donovan said.

The Thunder are looking to flip the script on this series now that they are back on their home floor.

“We have to play better all the way around,” Donovan said.

Hear from Coach Donovan right here:

Coach Stotts said big man Enes Kanter (right hand) is ready to play and his doing “fine” after suffering a contusion in his right hand in Game 2.

Stotts also discussed what this Blazers team has learned after getting swept in the playoffs last year.

“Well, we had to live with it through the summer and it’s been pretty much the narrative for eight months about our playoff failure and 10 straight losses… So, I think it’s given us a focus, a bit of a determination not to listen to the noise and really stay focused at the task at hand,” Stotts said.

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

What They're Saying: The Blazers-Thunder series could shift in OKC

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What They're Saying: The Blazers-Thunder series could shift in OKC

After taking a 2-0 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers will look to keep it moving on Friday in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Unlike the first two games, the Blazers will have to get it done in enemy territory, as the series moves to Oklahoma City for games 3 and 4.

Instead of looking at what they're saying about the Portland Trail Blazers, we decided to flip the script and see what members of the local media in OKC and a few members of the national media had to say about Friday's showdown. 

Let's take a look: 

Royce Young, ESPN NBA writer, took in Thunder practice on Thursday and said Paul George hinted at some matchup adjustments in Game 3.

On that note, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman said its likely Paul George could spend more time guarding the Blazers guards on Friday, specifically Damian Lillard.

Thunder radio play-by-play announcer Matt Pinto says he expects the Thunder to do a better job at throwing bodies at Lillard and McCollum and he believes this series could take a turn in OKC.

"I think this series will begin shifting, starting tonight with Game 3 on their homecourt."

Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady said this week on The Jump that he believes Paul George, who recently said his shoulder was “pain-free,” is dealing with a more significant injury: a torn labrum.

“This man has Icy-Hot, he got ice all on his shoulder. What I think he has is a torn labrum. I’ve dealt with that before in my career and it is very painful. I had to have surgery and I was out for like four months. I think he is dealing with that.”

On The Dan Patrick Show Friday, NBA on TNT analyst Reggie Miller said the Thunder’s season would be a wash if OKC can’t bounce back in the series.

“They’ve got great talent: A top-10 center in Steven Adams and you’ve got two top-10 players in Westbrook and Paul George. And you can’t get out of the first round?”

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers, heading into tonight’s Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City, have been playing as well together as they have over the past several seasons. Different players are stepping up to help Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum like never before. This team is connected – at both ends of the floor.

And it all started at one of the low points of the season. The foundation for the team’s current play was built during adversity. Dark days.

McCollum went down with a knee injury during a game at San Antonio March 16. And nobody was quite sure how quickly he would return. Jusuf Nurkic would be lost for the season with a broken leg March 27. What appeared to be a season when the Trail Blazers could make a run at the conference finals, people suddenly questioned their ability even to make the playoffs.

Just how many points per game would Damian Lillard need to score per game to get this team on the winning track and into a decent playoff seed? Forty points? Fifty?

Turns out that approach wasn’t the right direction. Lillard had a better idea.

“I go back to those first three games when CJ was out,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Before Nurk got hurt, but CJ was out. Those three games where he averaged 30 points and double-digit assists – being very efficient scoring the ball and setting up his teammates.

“I think that really set the tone for the rest of the season.

“Damian is very astute. Now he’s been in the league -- this is his seventh year -- I think he’s learned a lot. So I think he understood the dynamics.

“It’s not to say he wasn’t trying to score – we need him to score. But his understanding of the game and its dynamics had a lot to do with it.”

Lillard knows he’s progressed over time and those who have watched his career develop are aware of it. But the world may not understand how deep his intellectual approach to the game has become.

Maybe a few years ago, well...

“I would have taken it upon myself to try to have more big games,” Lillard said. “But I think it’s part of experience, learning and watching film and having a coaching staff that challenges you.

“Like now, when Nate Tibbetts mentions something to me like ‘Hey, I want to show you these clips. I want to talk about this.’ And we talk about it and so OK, I understand that.

“Dave Vanterpool says, ‘Dame, I need you to look at this.’ And Jim Moran says, ‘Dame, look at this.’ Dale Osbourne …they’ve all come to me and that has helped me advance my game as a point guard – mentally, and to know how to manage things better.

“Playing for a good staff, I went into that situation thinking, ‘I need to try to help my guys, where I can put them in a position to do what they do best, instead of me taking it upon myself.’

“And that will make us a better team in the bigger picture. And it will work out better for us. With Nurk and CJ out, it will work out better for us. And it was a perfect situation.

“That’s just what it had to be. If it came to where we weren’t going to win the game, my mentality was, if we get to the fourth quarter and we’re not scoring, then take it upon yourself.”

It’s all about trust – such an underrated ingredient in a team’s success. And Lillard gets it.

“Guys are capable,” he said. “Allow them to do what they do. Because they know the opportunity is going to be there.”

And they know their leader, Damian Lillard, trusts them.

“Exactly,” he said. ”That’s all the difference in the world.”

Tonight's X-factor in Oklahoma City won't be ON the court

Tonight's X-factor in Oklahoma City won't be ON the court

OKLAHOMA CITY – With the Oklahoma City Thunder down 2-0 to the Portland Trail Blazers in the best of seven series, the Thunder know adjustments need to be made and shots need to go down.

Coming off Game 2, Russell Westbrook went 5-of-20 from the floor and also committed 6 turnovers, while Damian Lillard finished with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting including 4-of-8 from three. Portland’s backcourt outscored OKC’s 62-21.

After the Thunder wrapped up Friday morning’s shootaround, their shooting struggles were addressed, as well as what the Thunder feel may just make a big difference in Game 3.

OKC’s shooting woes

In Game 2, OKC shooting woes were front and center. The Thunder shot just 40.7 percent from the field as a team and 17.9 percent (5-of-28) from 3-point range and shooting 15.2 from three in Game 1.

During the regular season, Thunder starting power forward Jerami Grant averaged 11 points vs. the Blazers. In the first two playoffs games, he has scored 13 points combined on 3-of-15 shooting. 

Grant discussed how he and his teammates have been talking to each other about how they can’t shy away from taking shots because the tide will eventually turn.

“Just missing shots,” Grant said. “We’re fine though. We workout enough we know how to shoot the basketball. We know what we gotta do. We’ll be fine tonight.”

The X-Factor: Home Court 

After getting blown out in Game 2, the Thunder are now favored by 7.5 in Game 3. What's changed? Simply put: home court.

OKC finished the season with a 27-14 home record. Two of those home wins were big time performances against the Blazers.

“Um, we’ll see” was Westbrook’s simple response to “how important will homecourt advantage tonight?”

Westbrook did have a thoughtful answer though when it came to describing the Thunder fan base.

“Especially during this time of year they’re very, very excited, loud, intense throughout the whole game so it’s kinda good to always get in front of them. Westbrook said.

It sounds like having the home crowd behind them it what just might make the difference in Game 3.

“It’s huge, it’s huge. Playing at home, especially with the fans that we have it’s an extra man on the court with us. We’re definitely excited for this,” Grant said.

The Trail Blazers also understand what it means to play in front of your homecourt. After Portland’s shootaround, Lillard talked about the key to getting a win on the road.

“A lot of times you get on the road and it’s a little bit harder to do some of things you do at home when you get on the road because you’ve got… the crowd... it’s a standing ovation, they’re trying to get you going. Every shot that you make the crowd is going wild, making you feel good about everything little thing that you do… Those are the feel good things that you get from being a home team,” Lillard said.

“Then when you go on the road. It’s the exact opposite. Every time they make a shot it’s like the end of the world… So, it’s us being able to keep our focus and sustain what our mentality has been regardless of home or on the road,” Lillard added.

Game 3 between the Blazers and Thunder will tip-off at 6:30 pacific time on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

The Portland Trail Blazers are leading the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 in their first-round series and everything looks rosy in the Rose City. But the series now switches to Oklahoma and Chesapeake Energy Arena is no easy place to play. 

The Blazers find themselves in an interesting position, particularly given the late-season injury to Jusuf Nurkic. That anybody predicted they would be up on the Thunder at this juncture would be a stretch, even given Paul George's shoulder injury.

Over the first two games the Blazers have looked like the better team, and by a significant margin. With that, it’s time to look at three things that have gone right for Portland, and three things that they’ll need to watch out for moving forward.

Damian Lillard’s defense

Damian Lillard has been incredible on the defensive side of the ball in this series, agitating Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder. The Blazers PG posted a regular season defensive rating of 112, but he’s ratched that down to just 95.

Lillard has been particularly adept at using his left hand to swat at the ball, which is part timing and part film study. It’s led to several outright steals, not to mention poke aways and swipes down on the basketball during drives.

If Portland’s going to continue to be this impressive on defense, Lillard is going to have to be a part of it. Luckily he’s been whacking away possessions, blocking shots, and mucking up passing lanes during the first two games.

Blazers defense

Lillard’s defense is a part of a bigger picture that folks haven’t really talked about yet. Terry Stotts and his staff appear to have put together a clear defensive plan around one tenant: unless it’s Paul George, don’t jump on any Thunder wing’s 3-point attempt.

Portland has taken to actively rushing to the 3-point line against OKC — Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, and all the Blazers backcourt have been seen sprinting hard on close outs — but when defenders arrive they’ve taken to getting low and protecting against the dribble drive.

It’s part of the reason the Thunder have shot just 16.4 percent from the arc, far and away the worst mark of any team in the playoffs. George’s shoulder has played its part as well, but make no bones about it — the Blazers have a gameplan, and it’s working.

Portland’s shooting

The Blazers have been the second-best team in these playoffs in terms of 3-point shooting percentage, and are fifth in made 3-point attempts. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have led the way in that respect, and Seth Curry has provided quite the spark off the bench.

The Thunder just haven't been able to contain Portland's long-range gunners, and both Lillard and McCollum have put up shots from deeper than perhaps OKC would have predicted.

Oklahoma City has declined in large part to double-team either player, much the way teams have in the postseasons past. That's allowed some more freedom for Lillard and McCollum, and the Blazers have made the Thunder pay dearly. 

Oklahoma City doesn't have the confidence in its roster to double-team the Blazer guards and still contain the rest of the Portland offense effectively. That's played right into the Blazers’ hands, and should continue unless Billy Donovan somehow comes up with a more athletic forward who can switch on to either guard. 

Westbrook’s determination

After Game 1 Russell Westbrook appeared to be mopey. After Game 2, Westbrook was energized.

The former NBA MVP said that he took full responsibility for the loss in Game 2, and it seems like he isn't going to let things stand as they head back onto his home court.

Oklahoma City hasn't used its home court advantage quite the way that seems like Portland or Denver have this season, but Westbrook is certainly more dangerous. He’s a better scorer at home, and shoots 1.3 additional attempts at the free-throw line per game at Chesapeake than away. That disparity could play a difference in a tight playoff game.

And remember, Westbrook and Lillard have a history. The Thunder guard once trash-talked Lillard by telling him that he’d “been busting that ass for years”. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Westbrook is poised to go off like a bomb. 

Paul George’s shoulder

George didn't exactly have a poor game to start the series, but he did look susceptible to blocks by Moe Harkless. Put simply, he wasn't quite himself.

George has shot no better than 28.6 percent from the 3-point line in any game this series, and that's been a huge issue for Oklahoma City. George is by far and away the most important 3-point shooter the Thunder have on their roster, both in terms of made threes and 3-point percentage, and he has more than twice the made threes than the next closest Thunder in Dennis Schroder. 

That brings us to George's shoulder. The Thunder star looked much better in Game 2, and if he's ready to play at a higher level and feeling less pain, that could spell trouble for the Blazers. If George comes back as a relevant 3-point shooter, that will change the geometry of the floor for Portland's defense in a major way.

Evan Turner as a non-factor

Turner did not have a good March but he came on strong in the five games Portland played in the month of April. As the season came to a close, it seemed that Turner would play a large role in the playoffs as one of the Blazers’ most important players and as the leader of the second unit.

But Turner has played sparingly, logging just 16 minutes in Game 1 and 11 minutes in Game 2. He hasn't made an impact in the box score, and his plus-minus has been nominal.

Portland is firing on all cylinders right now — on both sides of the ball — but the strength of this team outside of Damian Lillard has been its bench. Turner is one of the big reasons for that and when the Blazers eventually face adversity against this Oklahoma City team, they're going to need him to show up and journey forward.

The Xs and Os of Damian Lillard's defense of Russell Westbrook

The Xs and Os of Damian Lillard's defense of Russell Westbrook

Damian Lillard has been excellent on defense this postseason. Having seemingly flipped a switch, Lillard has posted a 95 defensive rating in the playoffs, in stark contrast to his regular season mark of 112. 

The Portland Trail Blazers haven't hid Lillard, either, with Rip City's favorite son often guarding former MVP Russell Westbrook much of the time.

Portland's overall strategy and energy on defense has fundamentally changed as a team. Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, and Evan Turner are all more active, and it appears Terry Stotts and his staff have given them a mandate: close out hard, stay grounded, and don't bite. In essence, it's OK if anyone outside of Paul George takes a less-than-contested 3-pointer, just as long as no one gets into the paint.

That's been the base for Lillard’s strong start. He's played strong, low, and has moved his feet backward even when that seems counterintuitive. The Blazers PG has looked more confident, and he’s been able to get under the shirt of several Thunder players outside of Westbrook.

The biggest thing Lillard has done, shockingly, is come up with steals, swipes, and blocks in volume we've never seen from him before. That's thanks to a nifty move with his left hand that's made it seem like a trick he's waited to break it out until the postseason.

Watch the video above to see how Lillard's used his new move, plus played "spy" on George as a means to supercharge Portland's defense.