Well, the word is out on the streets. Damian Lillard has been picked for this season’s All-Star team. The Western Conference is flush with hotshot, team-leading point guards, and Dame has been known to school each and every one of them at one time or another. He works hard, and definitely deserves the honor. Aside from his presence on the court, off the court Dame is as classy as they come. He won the Professional Basketball Writers Association’s Magic Johnson Award for the 2016-2017 season. The PBWA gives that award annually to the player who “combines excellence on the basketball court with cooperation and dignity in dealing with the media and the public.” He certainly lives up to that accolade with his forthrightness in the locker room and the work he does in the community. Dame has earned the NBA’s, and its fans’ respect.
It’s a big deal that Dame nabbed his spot this season having been snubbed the last two, but frankly, when he didn’t get picked it wasn’t that big of a problem. Sure, it winged the man’s pride, but Dame pushed the limits of his game the second half of both of those seasons to show that he was all-star material. But then again, being chosen as one of the top-tier players in the NBA this season might have the same effect. Now, he’s got to play like he deserves the nod.
Last night the Trail Blazers hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Blazers have faced the Wolves twice this season in Minnesota, and were snuffed out both times. So naturally, it was the perfect time for Dame to do an all-star victory lap and dance the Blazers to a win. The only problem was that the Wolves also had a pair of flashy all-stars in Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. They were gonna want to put on a parade as well.
Luckily, Butler was listed as doubtful, and didn’t end up stepping onto the court. His presence may not have mattered anyway. Dame posted 31 points, and Pat Connaughton threw down two insane alley-oop dunks in the final quarter to hoist the Blazers to a 123-114 win.
The Wolves got hot fast. Butler wasn’t on the court, but Towns made his presence known immediately. He owned his team’s offensive paint with some tricky spin moves, and general muscle. Between him, and forwards Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson, the Wolves got out to an early lead. CJ McCollum and Dame put the screws in them with nine and eight points, respectively, but the Wolves took a four point lead into the second quarter, 29-25.
The Blazers started taking it back to start the second. Zach Collins showed some of his versatility and hit a big three. The Blazers’ defense picked up dramatically, as well. They held the Wolves to two shot clock violation in the first five minutes of the quarter. Despite the Blazers’ slight defensive uptick, the Wolves were able to maintain their lead throughout the quarter right up until the last minute, when the Blazers were able to tie the game at 54.
The Blazers came screaming out to start the second half looking fierce on both ends of the court. Al Farouq-Aminu stomped down the lane for a huge fast break dunk, and McCollum flashed by Wiggins in the paint for a wrap-around lay-up. Just after the halfway mark, the Blazers had a ten point lead. The Wolves got into foul trouble, putting themselves in the penalty with four minutes left in the third, but that really didn’t matter. Dame rained in two long threes in a row from the same spot, then tried a third because he’s got such a flair for the dramatic. The Blazers maintained a two-digit lead for a bulk of the quarter. Dame’s point total grew to 31, and the Blazers took a 13 point lead into the final quarter.
There was more of the same to start the fourth. CJ turned on the juice and pushed his point total to 20. Then with seven minutes left in the game, he chucked a beautiful, cross-court alley-oop pass to Pat Connaughton who reverse dunked it over his head. It was goddamn hot business! The crowd roared like maniacs! It’s a play like that that can decide games, even when there’s tons of time left on the clock. And wouldn't you know it, the Blazers’ lead jumped up to 19 shortly after Pat’s highlight reel dunk. Then just when you thought you’d seen Pat’s high point of the game, Dame dumped another alley-oop dunk pass to the Blazers’ “Most Valuable” Pat who slammed it home. After that, Coach Stotts tipped over the pine and put in the clean up squad. That was all she wrote for the Wolves.
Stotts was all smiles at the postgame press conference, and summed up the game with his first three words at the podium, “Uh…really good game.”