Onward, and upward, for Blazers?
In 73 seasons of the NBA, no team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
"You never know when the first time is going to happen," Damian Lillard said Sunday at the Trail Blazers' practice facility. "We could be the first team to do it."
Portland goes into Monday's 6 p.m. Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in an 0-3 hole against two-time defending champion Golden State, and nobody — truly nobody — gives the Blazers a chance to make some history.
But I love Lillard's attitude. He has led, shot and willed his team to playoff series victories over the past few seasons. Barring a turn of the supernatural, it's not going to happen this time against the Warriors, but I'll be surprised if there aren't more conquests in the future.
And honestly, isn't that the mind-set you'd want your team captain to have?
I also respect the approach Lillard took to the news that leaked out about the separated ribs he suffered in the third quarter of Game 2, when Golden State's Kevon Looney landed on him during a dive for a loose ball. Lillard has played through the injury without complaint and downplays the impact it has had on his performance. He'll lace on his Adidas and continue to play.
"I don't think it's something that's affecting my game," he told reporters. "It's there, but it's not affecting anything I'm doing. I feel it, but that's it."
The All-Star point guard is shooting .326 from the field and .385 from 3-point range in the series. The numbers are at .296 and .313 since the injury, but he said the injury is not affecting his shots, since it's on the left side of the ribs.
Lillard isn't taking a painkiller but is taping and padding the ribs.
"When I get winded, it's a little harder to breathe," he conceded. There is pain "with contact, when you're in there banging with guys."
Backcourt mate CJ McCollum — who recovered from a late-regular season knee injury to make it back for the playoffs — knows the Blazers will get Lillard's best effort.
"There's not much you can do to increase my level of respect for him," McCollum said. "It's unfortunate to have to fight though an injury, but he's a strong person.
"We're in the playoffs now. There are no excuses. There's no way he's going to come out of a game. We just have to keep pushing forward. We can rest in the summer."
Lillard was sensational in Portland's five-game elimination of Oklahoma City in the first round, averaging 33.0 points and 6.0 assists and outplaying the Thunder's Russell Westbrook. Lillard was less successful in the West semis against Denver, but he still averaged 25.1 points and 6.0 assists against the Nuggets' well-planned defensive package.
Golden State's defense is even better, with 6-7 Klay Thompson and 6-6 Andre Iguodala taking turns defending the 6-3 Lillard, and Draymond Green waiting with help defense off the pick-and-roll or on any drive to the basket.
"If I'm coming off a screen, I'm not just looking at my (defender)," Lillard said. "I'm looking at the guy who is defending our big. I'm seeing Draymond Green. He's behind, tracking my movements. He's like the next layer of defense that I'm paying attention to.
"I'm not wanting to explode and get around (his defender), because I see what's waiting for me. It'll be a crowd, and I'll put myself in a tougher position. They're doing a good job in their coverages."
Lillard won't admit to it, but he is worn down by a long season of carrying a heavy load at the offensive end for the Blazers. Monday night will be his 96th game since the regular-season opener last Oct. 18. He is going up against a determined, talented bunch on its way to fortifying its position as one of few dynasties in the league's long history.
In Game 3, Lillard had a few open looks in the second half and missed most of them. He's not getting many easy attempts at the basket. He also had five turnovers, leaving him with 14 giveaways in the series. That's not the player we've watched through a memorable season.
The Blazers' meal ticket is a stand-up guy, though, and he doesn't intend to give up the ship without a fight Monday night. After giving the franchise its first berth in the West finals since 2000, the Blazers don't want to go out with a whimper.
"It's about pride, being competitors, being professionals — we have a lot to play for," Lillard said. "We're not ready to go out there and say, 'All right, we did our best, we had a great season.'
"We're a team. Everything we do is as a group. Everybody is invested in this. We put so much into the success we've had this season. It means something to everybody. We're not ready to stop playing — it's as simple as that."
Center Meyers Leonard — who injected with his first start of the playoffs, and only third of the season, in Game 3 — will likely be on the court for tip-off again Monday night. He shares Lillard's intentions of extending the series.
"We could easily say, 'We're down 0-3, no one else has (come back to win under that scenario), why not just get to the summer?'" said Leonard, who scored 13 of his career playoff-high 16 points in the first half. "That's not who we are. That's not our mind-set.
"We have a group of guys who really care and love to win. We're going to come out (Monday) night and fight and give a really good effort."
As McCollum puts it, "every night is an elimination game for us now."
The question is, how many elimination games are left?
"We have to lock in and control everything we can control," McCollum said. "Execution, how hard we're playing, being in the right spots, being active defensive, executing offensively. And hopefully. That's enough for us to get a win on Monday."
If not? It will be thanks for the memories, and see you next year.
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