Blazing Babbles: You can never go home again… unless you're Damian Lillard

Warriors 103, Trail Blazers 97

Damian Lillard wore the poker face all week when asked about going back tonight to play his first game as an NBA player in his hometown. Even going so far as to tell me:

“I don’t see what makes it so special,” Lillard said on Tuesday. “People don’t understand about me, it takes something really special for me to say ‘oh yeah, this special.’ When I got drafted and my family was there and I got picked, that was special. To me, that was special. Just going to play the Warriors — I just played the Kings and I went home and saw everybody. For somebody outside looking in, it’s probably a lot more looking special.”

Well played, Dame. Had us all thinking this wasn’t a “special” game for you.

Lillard finished with a career-high 37 points, his shooting touch was so pure that he nearly made every long-distance bucket through a long stretch of the third and fourth quarters.

How many times does the build up pale in comparison to the actual moment? I devoted more than 1,600 words to Lillard’s Homecoming, the Oakland papers also ran stories and national outlets reported on it and Lillard lived up to the hype.

He almost single-handedly, and magically, pulled Portland out of its dregs to steal a game in his hometown. The Warriors led by 20 at the 4:16 mark of the third quarter when Lillard hit his first basket of the second half. A triple. And he was just getting started.

Lillard went on to drill his next nine shots (for the mathematically challenged, that’s 10 consecutive MAKES, not points… MAKES). This pinpoint accuracy pulled the Blazers within seven and when Lillard finally missed again, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews stepped up for back-to-back 3-pointers. The only problem – the Warriors picked a good time to get hot again and matched the buckets. The Blazers got as close as a two-possession game, 98-92 in the final one minute of play, but time worked against Portland.

Lee v. Aldridge

After watching the battle of perspective Western Conference All-Star forwards, you should give Round 1 to the Warriors’ David Lee. By a long shot.

Lee: 24 points (11 of 20), 12 rebounds, 2 steals.

And for L.A. – just think of Lillard’s night (a best performance of the season) and flip it.

Aldridge: 7 points… ouch (3 of 14… double ouch), 6 rebounds, 5 assists.

This was easily Aldridge’s worst outing, beating his 12-point raspberry in Phoenix on Nov. 21.

As cliché as the excuse may seem, the fatigue factor must be a part of this conversation. Like Lillard, Matthews and Batum, Aldridge played 40-plus minutes last night in the emotional 92-90 win over the Heat. (The big three that played so big the previous night, shot a combined 11 of 40 from the floor.)

Also, it was revealed this week that Aldridge is still playing with a sprain in his left wrist. Still, Lee thoroughly dominated the matchup and most importantly, got the team win.

Final thoughts

  • Luke Babbitt led the bench with 10 points but needed 13 shots to get there. Lot of short misses off the rim.

  • I think the greatest sign of the Blazers’ fatigue showed up in their 3-point shooting. Even early in the game, the starters could not run the offense smoothly and forced long shots near the end of hte shot clock. Overall, the team chucked up 43 3-point attempts. Yes, the deficit had a lot to do with that, but from the outset the Blazers were on pace for a ridiculous amount of triples, attempting 10 in the first quarter. In comparison, the Warriors shot just two in the opening quarter and made both.

  • No rest on Sunday. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be in town. While several opponents that have played in Portland this season have done so on a back-to-back after playing in Los Angeles, the Thunder, who gashed the Lakers tonight, will get a rest on Saturday before facing the Blazers in the Rose Garden.

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