Lillard: Thought I Played Well, Learned A Lot
LAS VEGAS – For a minute there, it appeared Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard were going to have a duel to prove who was the best young point guard in this league during the USA Basketball Showcase at Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday.
In the first quarter, the two were going at it, trading bucket for bucket. It was apparent that the coaching staff put these two young stars opposite of one another for a reason.
“I knew it was the first time that we had actually matched up against each other," Lillard said. "He's competitive, I'm competitive. For a second in that first quarter, we got going back and forth a little bit. It was fun.”
“It's just two competitors competing at the highest level,” Irving told CSNNW.com. “Damian is a great player. I love his poise, the way he's so calm and under control on the court. He doesn't get rattled. We'll have plenty of battles in this league together.”
At the end of one, Lillard put up seven points on three-of-four shooting while Irving had eight points on a perfect three-for-three clip. The showdown had just begun.
But at the same time, the showdown had just ended.
Lillard went on to miss his next eight field goal attempts and didn't score again until he flushed down a two-handed dunk midway in the fourth quarter. His night ended with nine points on four-of-14 shooting with three assists and two steals.
Irving kept up his pace and finished with game highs of 23 points and seven assists. Lillard's defense has improved drastically, but it will always require team defense in order to be successful. That was the case this evening.
“I thought I played good defense,” Lillard said. “Most of the times it was off pick-and-rolls. I was fighting over the pick-and-rolls and he's great at pick-and-rolls. He came off, got around the big man and he was able to score the ball.”
Lillard has had a strong, impressive showing here in Las Vegas. One scrimmage will not hurt his chances of being selected as one of the 25-30 players hand-picked by chairman Jerry Colangelo and Coach K in January.
But the question had to be asked. What was going through your mind when you had missed eight consecutive shots?
“I didn’t even think about it, honestly,” he said. “I just remembered the ball wasn't going in. It never clicked in my head that I missed a lot of shots in a row because I was just shooting the shots that I felt I needed to be able to make. I was keeping myself in the game. That's all I was worried about. I wasn't overly concerned with every little thing like I probably would with the Trail Blazers because I know I'll have a different role with this team.
“Coming into this game, I didn't think I had to play a great offensive game. I didn't have to do anything above and beyond. If I'm on that team, I don't have to do anything above and beyond. I have too assert myself defensively, be active. On offense, I'll probably be catching and shooting a lot. Sometimes making plays in transition and finishing at the rim. I tried to show I can be that player on this team.”
He's definitely got the right mindset.
In talking with Colangelo on Wednesday, he said Damian had done all that was asked of him to this point. His ability to play off the ball and run the team if needed, is extremely valuable.
His game is international ready.
“I think I left a great impression,” Lillard said. “I think they all saw that I'm the type of person that can adapt to be a part of Team USA. And I can definitely do what I have to do on the floor to be a part of the team.”
During this four-day minicamp, Lillard's defense has improved, his leadership skills are up to par and he is more vocal. All traits that should help him deal with his Trail Blazer teammates come time for training camp.
If all fails and he isn't selected to go further in the process with Team USA, Lillard at least got better as a player and a person.
“I'm more vocal,” he said. “I was vocal with these high level young players. It will be a lot easier to go back to my team and do the same thing. I think I've improved as a leader but most importantly my defense.”