The Portland Trail Blazers have historically won games by outscoring teams during the Damian Lillard-era. This season, second-year head coach Chauncey Billups has prioritized winning games on the defensive end.
While Portland’s Tuesday night 117-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs wasn’t a defensive clinic, both teams shot 52 percent from the field; the Blazers won because of their mentality to get stops instead of simply preventing the Spurs from getting buckets.
“I think in the past we would be like, ‘Alright, somebody got to get it going,’ Lillard said, per NBA.com. “The energy on our team now, it feel like ‘We’ve got to get some stops. We’ve got to stop them, and we’ve got to get rebounds.’ I think that’s the difference; that’s why we’re able to win a lot of these games.”
Dame Time (22 points and 11 assists) was the personification of that energy after he got a stop late in the fourth quarter. The Weber State product was switched onto Kieta Bates-Diop in the post, a 6’8 forward out of Ohio State, but don’t let his reputation as a non-defender make you think he’d go like that against a fifth-year forward. Bates-Diop took one drip into the paint and went up for a hook shot, but Dame was ready, elevated, and blocked that s—t.
“When guys see how personal I’m taking it and how personal Josh (Hart) is going to take it, when we take that challenge like that, and we care about it, it’s infectious,” said Lillard. “I think people have said things about me defensively without understanding what real responsibility is when you’re leading a team and how hard that is. So I make it a point: We gonna see about it.”
“I think people have said things about me defensively without understanding what real responsibility is when you’re leading a team and how hard that is. So I make it a point: We gonna see about it.” — @Dame_Lillard pic.twitter.com/POACyn9a1n
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) November 16, 2022
On the ensuing possession, Lillard made a play he’s more known for, knocking down a triple three feet beyond the line to give the Blazers a 110-106 lead with 3:24 to play.
“Say what they want, but it’s been a lot of those moments, and there’s going to be more of those moments where I’ve got to step in there and be willing to take that challenge. And I’m going to keep doing it. That just was one possession, and it was a big possession.”
The Blazers brought the dub home after holding the Spurs to just four points over the game’s final six minutes and 50 seconds. Drew Eubanks converted an and-one, and Anfernee Simons (23 points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc) knocked down a trip to secure Portland’s seven-point win.
Portland will host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at 10 PM EST.