Damian Lillard has received his first opportunity to represent his country for the first time in his career.
It’s an opportunity the soon-to-be 31-year-old realizes doesn’t happen too often and he has to seize what’s in front of him.
Coming off an MVP-caliber season and a stellar playoff run, Lillard is one of the more high-profile names on the men’s basketball team in Tokyo.
In an interview with Blazers team reporter Casey Holdahl, Lillard explained his experience on Team USA and much more.
“I’m just looking forward to being an Olympian, I’ve never done it,” Lillard said. “It’s disappointing that there’s not going to be any spectators but I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t done it, I haven’t played with the best players in meaningful games -- we’ve played in All-Star games but it’s half-ass. So to play for something bigger than us in meaningful games with the best players, everybody don’t get that opportunity, so I’m excited like that.”
Lillard has been a starter in each of the team’s three games and is averaging 16.3 points through three games. The team has noticeably struggled, dropping their first two games to Nigeria and Australia, but bounced back against Argentina.
The team losing has caused more of a conversation than when they win. Team USA is expected to win each game and dominate, just look at the betting odds. Lillard knows what comes with representing his country and embraces it. Pressure is what’s built him into the player he is today and gaining a reputation as a clutch player.
“It’s the end of the world! But it’s good pressure,” he said. “NBA players are their best when we’re on edge. It’s not like we on edge, once again, for our NBA teams, like “I’m going up against the Brooklyn Nets with James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant and I gotta figure out a way like that.” This is like, we have to perform together, but I’m looking at Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Brad Beal, Jayson Tatum, Zach LaVine. You looking down the line like, it’s good pressure. This is what we supposed to do, when you play with the best players in the world, you’re supposed to win. It’s good pressure for that reason.” Lillard’s defense was a topic of conversation after the first two games, leading him to trend on social media.
It’s nothing new for the six-time All-Star, but what’s important is Team USA being ready for when the games count. With it looking like Lillard will be the team’s starting point guard, he envisions his role will be the same as it is with the Blazers.
“After three games, I feel like my role is gonna be more similar to my role in the NBA than it is not as far as scoring the ball, attacking, being a playmaker. And the same thing with KD. I could see me and KD having similar roles but not as much pressure to have 30 points, you’ve just got to be aggressive and making plays and kind of getting things going. I could see that. And we’re the longest tenured at doing that. Obviously you’ve got start talent -- Jayson Tatum, Zach LaVine, Brad (Beal) has been doing it a long time as well -- but KD has been the number one option a long time, I’ve been a number one option a long time. That’s why I could see that being our roles, Brad as well. “And shooting. The line is closer, I don’t get catch-and-shoot opportunities (in the NBA). These three games I’ve probably got more catch-and-shoot opportunities than I got all season this year in the NBA. It shows how well I shoot the ball when I get those opportunities. I’m gonna make it.”