If there’s one thing avid Trail Blazer watchers expect on Sunday it’s Damian Lillard to have a big game. He loves the big stage and has a way of performing on a level to match the spotlight. And he’s a true leader, the captain whose teammates will willingly follow him into whatever situations this team is likely to face.
Here are his thoughts about Sunday’s Game 7, the first Game 7 of his career:
“I mean, I think it’s always people saying people have never been in a Game 7, but it’s basically a game where only one team is going to make it out. It’s your last opportunity to play, so facing elimination is what it is to me. That’s going to be my approach. We were facing elimination (Thursday). The only thing that’s going to change is that it’s going to be on the road.
“It’s for our season. for all the marbles. For me, I’m not going in there saying I’ve never been in a Game 7. I’m going in there saying I know what this team is capable of.
“I know what I am and I know who I am as a player and I’m going in there to get the job done. I’m not concerned with it being a Game 7 or whatever. It’s not Game 7 of the Finals, so it is what it is,
“The No. 2 thing is to get rest, stay off our feet, rest our bodies, make sure we do that part. And the No, 1 thing is to have our minds right. Don’t overthink. Don’t make it some big crazy deal or anything like that. We’re going to play a basketball game. It’s a big game and we’ve won on their floor before and we know what kind of mentality we had when we did that.
“We’ve got to go out there, be tough, be physical, be sharp in our scouting report, play for each other, play with each other on both ends and just put the pressure on them. Make them earn everything on the offensive end and then when we get the ball, make sure we get shots up. Value each possession. Don’t go out there turning the ball over, playing into their hands where they get the opportunity to get their crowd involved.
“So that has to be our mentality – to just be sharp, be physical, go in there ready to take the game because the only way it’s going to happen is us going in there and taking it.”
And it's possible that the physical stress of a long, second-round series will have an impact on who "takes it."
Famously, Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
I’m not sure about cowards, but it makes us tired enough to affect our performance, whatever our occupations. For NBA basketball players, it’s could be a matter of winning or losing a game. A series. Or a season.
And fatigue might be a real factor Sunday when the Trail Blazers face off against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of a series where key players have been playing a huge number of minutes (H/T Truehoop.com).
Very much because of that four-overtime Game 3 in Portland, this series features the top six players in the minutes-played category of the playoffs. And four of those are Nuggets – 1. Nikola Jokic (515). 2. Gary Harris (478). 3. Jamal Murray (471). 5. Paul Millsap 471. The two Trail Blazers are: 4. Lillard (442) and CJ McCollum (431).
The adrenaline of a Game 7 to decide a trip to the Western Conference finals will carry these players for a while, no question. But there is serious doubt it can carry them through another complete game.
And whoever gets tired first is going to be at a big disadvantage. It’s definitely something to keep in mind as the game unfolds.