Trail Blazers

Key to Dame Time: Damian Lillard's trust in himself and his teammates

Trail Blazers

What time is it?

For all of Rip City, and the NBA bubble for that matter, it's always Dame Time. 

Portland has known Damian Lillard for being one of the most clutch players in the league and now the national media is taking notice. 

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The MVP of the seeding games led the 8th-seeded Trail Blazers to a 100-93 victory in Game 1 over the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday evening and one shot stood out in particular. A shot that had Dame living up to his nickname of Logo Lillard.

"The work was done already to get to the point where I am comfortable taking that shot," said Lillard who bombs 30+ foot shots before each game in warmups. "I'm not going into those shots thinking what if I miss or anything like that. It's a comfortable shot. It's been an efficient shot for me."

He knows better to take it every time down the floor, however. For when Dame decides to take a shot from the logo, it's a calculated risk. Or as risky as it can be for someone shooting 67% from 35-39 feet this season.

"I don't go out there and settle for it and shoot it all game long. I feel like I got a good grip on when to take it as far as time and score and where we are in the game. What kind of coverage I'm looking at. How hard we had to just work on the defensive possession so that I'm just not settling for this shot."

 

Lillard has had plenty of opportunities for late-game heroics in the bubble with an average margin of victory of 5.25 in Orlando. But it hasn't been Lillard doing it alone to get Portland into the playoffs and ready to make significant noise and therefore Dame Time isn't just when Lillard hits a big shot. It's when the Trail Blazers hit a big shot.  

"It's not always me making a big shot," Lillard said following Wednesday's practice. "Sometimes it's... setting up the situation like I know CJ [McCollum's] made two shots in a row and I know he can bring us home as well. Sometimes it's just setting the team up in spots and situations where we can create a good situation for CJ or maybe telling [Carmelo Anthony], 'You be on the opposite side because when I attack they're going to help in from that way and you going to have a shot,' or telling the same thing to Gary Trent [Jr.] or accepting the double team and making the right play out of it so we can make the right play on the backside... Just take responsibility for that, recognize where the help is coming from, what the other team is trying to do and just play to that. "

But for those thinking Dame does increase his play during the fourth they would be correct. 

"I think my level of focus actually goes up in the fourth quarter because it's time to win or lose the game and a lot of people in that situation are fatigued mentally and physically speaking, so they might waver and they might give into it and I like to take those moments to challenge myself and level up and challenge myself to those situations because I know how it can be for some people." 

Lillard's stellar play, both in scoring and setting up his teammates, has shown on the court. Especially when it matters most. In the eight seeding games, Portland led the NBA in fourth-quarter offensive rating at 129.1. That's seven points higher than second-place Brooklyn. 

Dame credits the experience of Portland, who entered the bubble 3.5 games out of the eighth seed, had to undergo to make the postseason for why they're playoff-ready and completely comfortable in late-game situations.

"I think since we've been playing for our playoff lives since we've been here, those close games, coming up big down the stretch on offense, getting the stops, we've had to do that so many times since we've been here so last night when that situation came again," elaborated Lillard. "We've had to trust each other in so many big situations in recent times it paid off for us in a game like last night because we was just comfortable.

"Over the last ten games that we've been here, all of them have gotten to that point. And we've shown that trust and we've shown that different guys can come up big in those situations." 

 

Down the stretch following two deep three's from Dame to take a late three-point lead, both Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. both hit three-pointers to help seal the series lead.  

"Make the extra pass. We gotta communicate more. Get the rebound. Just stuff like that, we've been doing it for the last two and a half, three weeks.

There's no fear in this Trail Blazers group. Not of the Los Angeles Lakers and not of the moment because they have trust in one another to get the job done. 

"I don't have a fearful mentality about [late-game situations,]" said Lillard. "If we lose, then we lose. Obviously we don't want to and I think that's what could make it a stressful situation, but I think when you have the comfort that I have it makes it, I guess, less stressful. And it's not comforting in not just what I can do but what if I know a double-team or a trap is coming I'm looking at outletting the ball to Carmelo Anthony, and he's a big shot maker. He's a Hall of Fame player. He can see the next play. I'm really comfortable with that. 

"Gary Trent [Jr.] has probably been the best three-point shooter since we've been here so usually if Melo gets it then the defense is going to come to Melo and G. Trent is getting a good look from three which I'm super comfortable with."

In the eight seeding games, Trent Jr. shot 50.7% from three on 8.4 attempts per game while Carmelo Anthony shot 46.9% on 4.0 attempts per game. 

But just because Lillard has new weapons he didn't forget about his longtime backcourt partner, CJ McCollum. 

"And I'm super comfortable if the ball ends up in CJ's hands. So I'm looking at three different guys -- I'm completely comfortable with taking that shot. If two people come to me, one of those guys is going to end up with a decent shot... That allows me to be comfortable in those situations to where it's like I can make the right play and live with it and if they don't send two people at me and give me that type of attention obviously I feel comfortable about what I can do with the ball in my hands."

All of Rip City knows good things happen when the ball starts in Lillard's hands en route to the hoop. Whether it gets there from a Lillard shot or assist depends on what type of coverage he's seeing. Now, the rest of the nation is taking notice. 

The Portland Trail Blazers will take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of their first-round series on Thursday, August 20th at 6:00 p.m. PT here on NBC Sports NW.