There are not too many players who can go from being listed as ‘questionable’ to then playing and dropping 33 points, while leading their team to a victory. But on Wednesday night, that’s exactly what Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard did.
After shootaround Wednesday morning, Lillard was added to the injury report with a right hand strain. He went through warm ups and was a game-time decision.
The Blazers announced about 40 minutes before tip-off that Lillard was available to play. He ended up leading all scorers in Portland’s fifth-straight home win with a 129-112 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is now the Blazers' longest home winning streak of the season.
After the game, Lillard gave an update on his hand.
“It’s still sore. Coming into the game, I knew it was going to be sore. I just felt more comfortable playing. We needed this game and I just felt more comfortable going out there,” Lillard said.
It probably did not come as a surprise to most people who are around Lillard or who have watched him play, that he did not sit out of Wednesday's game. Lillard has played through injuries before. In fact, he has missed just 23 games out of a possible 538 games played. Now in his seventh season, Lillard has yet to miss a single game this season and did not miss any games in each of his first three seasons while averaging 36 minutes per game for his career.
His running mate, CJ McCollum, knows Lillard more than anyone and he knows that Lillard is going to play if he can.
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure if he was going to play tonight, but he said that he slept and it felt a little better, he got a little bit of treatment… He’s tough. He takes care of his body and understands that we need to win as many games as possible. He showed up big tonight,” McCollum said.
The 28 year-old point guard finished with 33 points in Wednesday’s win on 11-of-19 shooting including an efficient 4-for-6 from three and a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line. Lillard also dished out six assists, to go along with two rebounds and zero turnovers.
As a team, the Blazers had a season-low four turnovers for the game.
It was in Portland's 115-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday night when Lillard suffered the hand injury.
“Last game it got hit. I was driving to the rim. Somebody tried to swipe at the ball and they hit one of my fingers and it kind of separated my finger from the other one, so it was like just a contusion. My hand was real stiff, real sore. I think it was in the first or second quarter. It was bothering me throughout that game, but, obviously I was already warm. It was stiff, but after the game it got worse,” Lillard said.
Lillard made his first two shots against the Cavs, which were both three-pointers, and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts couldn’t help but poke fun at Lillard early in the game.
“I kinda teased him after he made his first two shots, you know, ‘how’s your hand?’ Stotts joked.
“It was bothering him… He was guarding the post and he swiped down on the ball, but he made sure to swipe with his left hand. His hand is still sore,” Stotts added.
Lillard also mentioned how his sore hand impacted him on the defensive end.
“I don’t think it affected me. I was just cautious of it. Some situations, I was trying not to stick my right hand in there as much as I usually do. Sometimes it was just instinct and I’d reach for the ball, but I kind of felt that sometimes when I was guarding the post because I usually have my fist clinched up real tight when I’m trying to hold them off, but tonight I was kind of more pushing with my forearm and my hand,” Lillard said.
Lillard also assisted in helping Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic reach his first triple-double of his career. Nurkic earned his 10th assist after Lillard hit his final three-pointer of the game at the 2:27 mark in the fourth quarter. To go along with his 10 asssits, Nurkic had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Lillard has now scored 30+ points for the second straight game and the 15th time this season.
If fans and the media did not know already know that Lillard would play if he could, they do now. Lillard is going to play through the pain until it gets to be “unbearable.”
“When I went through shootaround this morning I could feel the impact, catching the ball, dribbling the ball, passing, but I was like you know, it wasn’t unbearable and I was fine,” Lillard said.