Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have become one of most iconic backcourts in the NBA.
Prior to McCollum suffering a broken foot in mid-January, the pair of Portland teammates became just the fourth tandem in history to each score at least 250 points through the first 10 games, and that’s just this season.
Since 2016, the pair have combined to average 49 points, 11 assists, and two steals per game on 39% 3-point shooting for the Trail Blazers.
So, what’s the key to becoming one of the NBA’s deepest marriages? If you ask Lillard, it’s about more than their partnership on the court. The two players have cultivated a real friendship behind the scenes.
“That’s like really one of my closest friends,” Lillard said following Thursday’s 123-119 win over the Kings. “Us being in the same backcourt or on the same team aside, I see random clips on Instagram, and I send them to CJ...
In a league powered by superstar duos and trios, Lillard and McCollum stay by one another’s side simply because they enjoy playing with one another.
The Trail Blazers 1-2 punch wouldn’t be the same, however, if Lillard and McCollum didn’t have a mutual compromise to always serve it up straight to the other.
“I would naturally think of his opinion and what he says to me, you know, on a different level,” Lillard explained. “We’ve had that agreement since my fourth year, in his third year, when we started in the backcourt together that, I’m gonna hear you out. You yell at me, I’m gonna hear you out. You cuss me out, I’m gonna hear you out. You demand something of me, I’m gonna hear you out.”
Most recently, McCollum called the six-time NBA All-Star out about managing his offensive workload.
“After the game tonight, CJ came up to me and was like great first half, but in the second half don’t make me have to come to your house and tell you you’re not playing tonight, ‘cos we got to be smart,” Lillard said.
And that wasn’t the first time McCollum has had to remind Lillard about the importance of reducing his load and minutes so he’s not wearing himself out.
“Earlier in the season with the Clippers, we was down 18 at the end of the third and I’m telling coach with like 10 seconds left in the third quarter like leave me in the game to start the fourth quarter, and that game was pretty much over it seemed like. They were dominating us,” Lillard recalled.
“The end of the quarter comes, and I was basically sitting there outside the huddle arguing with the coaches to like leave me in the game, and CJ walked up and he was just like ‘D, we talked about this, sit down, like sit down.’ At first I was just fighting it, fighting it, fighting it, but when he came over there and was like it’s over, we have another game tomorrow. We had to go to Golden State, he was like we still have two more games on this trip, sit down. And I was like alright...
In 34 games played, Lillard is averaging 29.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists in 36.0 minutes of work. The Trail Blazers star ranks sixth in the league in minutes heading into All-Star break.
It won’t be long until Lillard and McCollum are back practicing drives and kicking out passes to each other on the perimeter. After all those years of playing together and building a bond off-the-court, they know each other inside and out.
“There’s been times where he’s like D, shoot the f***ing ball, stop doing this, stop doing that, and I be like alright, or he’ll yell at me from the bench, or I’ll yell at him,” Lillard said. “Like C, in transition, you got to see me on the opposite side. He be like alright, I got you, and it’s a situation like that.
“We agreed that we would have that type of like acceptance, I guess, in our interactions and what the other would have to say. I haven’t gone back on it and neither has he.”
Lillard and the Trail Blazers can’t wait to get McCollum back on the court in the Second Half of the NBA season.