Anyone who has witnessed even just a handful of Damian Lillard’s games over his nine years in the league knows that Lillard is built differently, and on so many levels too.
But Saturday in New York at Madison Square Garden, Lillard once again showed the NBA world his toughness.
The team had announced just hours before tip-off that both Lillard (abdominal strain) and Derrick Jones Jr. (left foot sprain) were available.
Lillard sat out of his first game of the season Thursday after explaining Tuesday night that he had been dealing with abdominal pain for the past two weeks.
That pain is nothing new to Lillard. The strain comes and goes and it has since his fifth year in the league.
Playing through a nagging injury is nothing new for the Blazers superstar point guard either.
But following the 110-99 loss to the Knicks to finish the trip 3-3, Lillard said physically he’s fine despite taking a shot to the hip and limping off the court at the end of the first quarter.
The five-time All-Star added, “My hip was just real sore."
In 38 minutes of work, Lillard notched 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting including 6-of-12 from three. He also dished out nine assists and had four steals on the night.
But as Lillard spoke with the media, it was obvious the game and, more particularly, the Knicks defense had taken a toll on him.
Even though he was able to shoot 50 percent from the field and from deep, the Knicks made him work for it.
And just as head coach Tom Thibodeau likes to do -- he had his players put extra pressure on the Blazers’ ball handlers.
Lillard drew two defenders most of the game.
“I’m a player that’s in attack mode and I was attacking pretty much two and three people," Lillard said. "We set the screens higher, they had bigs up. Thibs was yelling at them, ‘get him, get him, get him,’ like they wanted to just send guys at me.
Lillard notched 13 points in the first quarter to help the Blazers take a 31-26 lead after the first 12 minutes of action. Portland also hit 7-of-14 from three in the first quarter.
But the three-point shot wasn’t there when Portland needed it most.
With Lillard drawing two or even three defenders at times, it made way for Robert Covington and Gary Trent Jr. to knock down open looks. The two stepped up on both ends.
Covington finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. But he also suffered another nagging injury in the second half.
Following the loss, the Blazers starting power forward explained exactly what happened midway through the third quarter.
“These next couple of days off before our next game is going to play significantly into me getting back .”
Portland was still without Nassir Little (left knee sprain), CJ McCollum (left midfoot fracture), Jusuf Nurkic (right wrist fracture), and Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture).
There has been no update on Little, while McCollum is set to be re-evaluated mid-Feb.
And as Jones Jr. returned after missing the previous four games, he came off the bench with Rodney Hood starting at the three. Jones Jr. played just 18 minutes.
The Blazers now head back to Portland with wins over Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia.
Going 3-3 on this trip while dealing with so many injuries is something that the Blazers addressed postgame.
Lillard added, “We came in here wanting to go 4-2, but I think given the circumstances, if we come on this trip and we leave splitting it, 3-3, we’ll take it… It was a little disappointing not to get this one tonight.”
With the All-Star game still up in the air, it would sure be nice for Lillard to have that time to rest next month.
But we also know that he is never one to sit out of any game unless absolutely necessary.