Since the Internet is still the Internet, overreacting to something a high-profile person said and acting as if context doesn’t matter, let’s discuss this question of whether Damian Lillard believes his Portland Trail Blazers can shock the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
When asked by a CSN Northwest reporter Wednesday night on the Blazers’ home telecast whether Portland would win in six or seven games, Lillard grinned and opted for the confident pick: six. Headlines were written by media outlets that saw a chance to capitalize on the misunderstood moment. Retweets commenced. No one seemed to care that this was obviously not the same as an actual player prediction.
Lillard certainly noticed, making it clear via Twitter on Thursday that he saw the reaction to it all as utter silliness.
I spoke with the two-time All-Star point guard about that very topic earlier this week, discussing not only their David-and-Goliath challenge against Golden State (league-best 67-15 record) but the bigger Blazers picture of how Portland managed to turn its season around in time to earn that honor (they had second-best winning percentage in the NBA over the last 23 games and finished 41-41 to secure the eighth seed). The bottom line as it relates to the Warriors?
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Of course he believes the Blazers can beat the Warriors – never mind that Portland went 0-4 against Golden State this season. He also knows it might be the hardest thing he’s done in his career.
“First of all, anything can happen,” he began in the Tuesday phone interview. “It's the NBA. It's about playing right at the right time, playing well at the right time, and we believe that we can beat anybody. We're not going into the playoffs saying, 'Alright, we got here, we did a great job, we fought back and let's just go in here and put up a fight.' We're going in here and we want to win. Ain't no moral victories and all that. We're coming to win. They're a great team. Nobody expects us to beat them. We have nothing to lose.
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“We're competitive. We believe in ourselves. It's going to be a tall task, but it's not like it's impossible. We're going in there to win it. We're going to go in there and put our best foot forward.”
From Lillard’s perspective, there’s a fascinating twist to this matchup that helps explain why he’s so confident. When he was a junior at Oakland High School in 2007, just a few miles away from the Warriors’ Oracle Arena home, he saw firsthand how an eighth-seed can shock the world and take down a No. 1.
The “We Believe” Warriors, that team that finished the regular season 42-40 and had to face a top-seeded Dallas Mavericks squad that had the same 67-15 record as this latest Golden State juggernaut, won the first round in six games and captured the nation’s attention during that time. Lillard, just like every other hoops fan on the planet, remembers it well. And while he didn’t attend any of the games in that famous first round, he was there in Game 3 of the second round series against the Utah Jazz where another memorable Warriors moment unfolded: Baron Davis’ monstrous dunk over Andrei Kirilenko.
“Yeah, I was in high school,” Lillard recalled of those Warriors, who fell to the Jazz in five games. “You just never know, man. We've got all the respect in the world for (the Warriors) as players and as people, but we - like I said - you go into the playoffs to win. You don't go in there worried about how good the other team is and all that.
“I mean they're a great team. To have that kind of talent on the team, and to play unselfish the way they do, and to make it work for everybody, they're a great team. They're a dangerous team. I think they've been good defensively (second in defensive rating at 101.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). They're almost winning 70 games a year, so you can't say anything about them.”
What you can do, however, is stick your chest out just a bit and feel good about the fact that they’re not unbeatable.
“The thing is, when you get to the playoffs everybody is zero and zero,” he concluded. “You just never know, but at the end of the day they lace up their shoes and put their uniform on the same way we do.