(Damian Lillard – @TrailBlazers )
The Nets just completed a week of change that started with the dismissals of General Manager Billy King and Head Coach Lionel Hollins on Sunday morning.
In a fitting way, one of the symbols of King’s inept trades, Damian Lillard, was in town with his Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
The Nets and Portland made a swap at the trade deadline in 2012 in which the Nets received Gerald Wallace and sent Portland their first-round lottery pick that season.
Portland ended up with the sixth pick in the 2012 Draft and used it on Lillard. He was a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year for the 2012-13 season, as he averaged 19.0 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game. He has kept it up and only gotten better, and this season, he is averaging 24.7 points, 7.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game.
By comparison, Wallace never lived up to expectations, and was part of the package the Nets sent the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Draft night 2013.
On Friday night, Portland took an 83-79 lead into the fourth quarter. The Nets, led by Andrea Bargnani and Thomas Robinson, went on a 13-5 run to open the frame.
The Nets led it 92-88 with 8:08 left when Lillard entered for Moe Harkless. Lillard hit his first two shots, a jumper and a three, to give them a 93-92 edge.
It was the start of a magnificent fourth, as he scored 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including two threes, an assist, and a +16 rating.
Portland put up 33 points in the fourth, on their way to a 116-104 win to drop the Nets to 11-29 on the season.
Lillard led the way with 33 points on 13-for-24 from the field, 5-10 on threes, 10 assists, and three rebounds.
Lillard said of how he’s been playing recently, “I’ve been getting back in the rhythm, you know, and I think our team is just playing well. Our offense and our bigs have been setting really good screens. Our spacing is really good. We’re moving well without the ball, we’re sharing the ball, and like I always say, I get my shots and put my time in and just keep my game tight. I’m just in one of those grooves where the game is just in flow. I just feel good out there and the way we’re playing as a team only makes it easier.”
Lillard said of what has been different over the past four or five games, “I wouldn’t say anything is different. I think over the course of the season, I was just getting used to the attention I was getting, getting used to how teams were defending me, getting used to seeing different things and I think the time that I spent nursing my injury off the court, everybody else had the opportunity to step up and their confidence is high, so now teams have to respect what they can do. You put me back into that equation and you know they’re honoring and respecting everybody else in the game and it’s coming easier for me.”
Portland Head Coach Terry Stotts said of the win, “Damian Lillard really carried us in the fourth quarter. Our offense was really good for most of the night except for a little stretch there in the second half. Defensively, I wish we played better throughout the game, but we got stops down at the end when we needed them. I thought Brooklyn played really well. They played a solid game. We did a better job on Brook Lopez in the second half. He kind of had his way in the first half. Ed Davis made a lot of good plays for us on both ends. It’s good to start the road trip with the win.”
Stotts said of Lillard’s play of late, “We’ve seen it before and we know what he is capable of doing. He came back against a couple of good teams so that was tough. He’s been playing some exceptional basketball and we needed all of it tonight. I’m not one for superlatives but this is a really good stretch. He makes the shots but I really like that he’s had double figure assists. His decision-making has been really good. We all know he can score but his floor game, his assists and his involving his teammates has really been at a high level.”
Nets forward Joe Johnson said of there being anything they could have done to slow down Lillard in the fourth, “Not really, he’s very poised in the pick and roll, so he’s never in a rush. So I mean, he’s shooting three, four feet behind the three-point line, I mean, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it.”
Nets Interim Head Coach Tony Brown said of the fourth quarter, “It was a quick run and I was trying to get guys in the game and Damian hear me trying to take a foul so I can stop the clock so I can get them in the game – and it’s a smart play by him. Our guys were running up and trying to get the ball – I mean trying to foul him – so he couldn’t get off the shot, but I take the credit for that one.”
Nets center Brook Lopez said of what Portland was able to do during the fourth quarter stretch, “They hit a few big buckets, but they obviously kind of get a rhythm and Dame (Damian Lillard) was doing his thing and when he’s on he’s tough to stop. He was getting where he wanted to go, getting his looks and just making plays and so he was rolling.”
Lopez led the Nets with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting, seven rebounds, and one assist. Donald Sloan just missed a triple-double, as he had 15 points (5-6 FG, 2-3 on threes), nine rebounds, and nine rebounds. Joe Johnson had 15 points (5-13 FG, 3-6 on threes), four assists, and three rebounds.