The Blazers' opponent, the Golden State Warriors, move through the regular and postseason as of the NBA Finals are their birthright. They're looking to advance to their fifth consecutive title round, but are doing so under different circumstances. Sure, most of the core of players who won in 2015 are still there and they're better players than they were then. But there seems to be a fallibility to them this season. Attrition has closed in on the league's best team, with injuries to Kevin Durant and Steph Curry nagging along as the Warriors advance. With each round, Golden State shows its toughness, but that toughness comes with the fact that the wins are harder because they're not that much better than everyone else anymore.
Enter Lillard and Portland, coming off an incredible seven game series win over the Denver Nuggets in which they had to battle back from a 17-point deficit in the first half. CJ McCollum was fantastic, teammates like Rodney Hood, Enes Kanter and Evan Turner made valuable contributions, and McCollum drilled the dagger shot in the fourth quarter as a struggling Lillard empowered his teammate to finish his incredible night. It's that kind of leadership and confidence that fuels the man known as "Dame Dolla" and encourages his team to never back down from any obstacle. As he said in the song, "Anomaly" on his debut rap album, "The greatest teams assembled, that ain't really what I'm into," highlighting that he'll relish the idea of the grind to win with whatever teammates he has and choose not to join an already great team.
Before it began, this series felt different than the 2016 Conference Semifinals in which Golden State won handily in five games. Yes, this matchup occurs a round later with much more at stake, yet that feeling of much more being at stake seems to hover over this series. Maybe Lillard is the rebel general that can lead the Blazers to an astonishing upset the same way the Warriors were underdogs before their dynastic reign. With this series, Lillard has the chance to make it known that it is his time.
And now, Portland is down 0-2.
The odds are even further stacked against Lillard and his team. The Warriors are now even heavier favorites to win the West and took what seemed like Portland's best shot Thursday night, edging the Blazers 114-110. In the grand scheme of history, not many teams have overcome losing the first two games of a series. But enough of them have done it so that the possibility is tangible, even if improbable. Then, factor in the Golden State juggernaut, itching for their fourth NBA title and looking to demoralize Portland in the Rose City as the series shifts there starting on Saturday. This could be insurmountable. But it also could be the beginning of another opportunity for Damian Lillard to grow his legend. Pressure to win is currently taking its wrist, demanding elevated play from the Blazers. We'll see if he and the Trail Blazers are the ones celebrating a trip to the Finals.
Otherwise, it'll be back to the drawing board for Oakland's favorite basketball son, and it will mean starting the clock all over and beginning the continental revenge tour again.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.