Photo credit: USAToday Sports. Pictured: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard
- From the OKC series to the sweep by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the narrative surrounding Damian Lillard shifted greatly.
- Matt Moore (@HPBasketball) writes on how we perceive superstars and the myth of the "unsolvable" NBA player in the modern game.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane over the last month.
April 24, 2019
- Damian Lillard is the best story of the NBA Playoffs
- “Unstoppable” Damian Lillard sets social media on fire
- Damian Lillard makes his case as a top-five player in the world
May 21, 2019
- The Impossible Burden of Damian Lillard
- Lillard, Blazers clinging to pride at playoffs’ edge
- Splash Brothers? Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum ‘look like the Trash Brothers’ against Warriors
And, of course, the sage:
For most people, the difference between where Lillard was a month ago after beating Oklahoma City, shutting up Russell Westbrook (at least for a few months) and looking like a top-five NBA player compared to the Warriors series where he looked helpless is one of “he’s not that good,” “he was injured,” or “the Warriors are just better.”
Now, it’s true that the Warriors are better. The Blazers beat two teams that were at least as good if not better than them on their way to the Conference Finals, and Golden State remains a juggernaut even without Kevin Durant. It’s not true that “he’s not that good,” because we’ve seen it. Those games vs. OKC did count, they did matter, as does the rest of his career, during which he’s been a phenomenal top-five point guard and arguably the best leader in the league.
His separated rib injury certainly matters; it’s always tough to play through the injury. But the reason Lillard adamantly tried to downplay it is that he knows everyone is dealing with something this time of year. There are no excuses. That’s the burden.
So here’s what we’re not going to do. We’re not here to acquit Lillard and say that his performance in the Conference Finals vs. a vastly superior team didn’t matter. It did. We’re not here to bury him as a choker fraud who can’t come through in the big moments. He’s not, that’s stupid, please stop thinking in those terms.
What we are going to do is try to use Lillard to understand something vital about where the NBA is at in 2019 and the specific relationship that the Warriors have to that dynamic that sets them apart from everyone else. Because here’s what these playoffs have taught us not only about Damian Lillard, but about James Harden, Nikola Jokic, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gobert, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid — and that we may be learning about Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard as well…
(Almost) everyone is solvable.