Damian Lillard trots up right side of the floor. He knows a trap is coming, so he tries to do his homework early. Instead of jetting down the sideline, he crosses over to his left hand, giving off the illusion of a drive up the middle. His big man is reading the fake in real time; he flips his screen as Lillard switches back to his right hand. The trap fails, but Lillard gets his pocket picked, anyway.
This is a snapshot of what the 2018 postseason was for Lillard, one of the league’s smartest guards against the aggressive New Orleans Pelicans: Knowing what the defense would do, knowing when they’d attack, and being rendered useless, anyway.
Jrue Holiday made life impossible with his chest-to-chest defense. Jusef Nurkic wasn’t quite ready to operate as a release valve. C.J. McCollum balled out (25.3 points with a 52/43/77 shooting split), but it didn’t matter without Lillard holding up his end of the bargain. Four games, 46 misses, and 16 turnovers later, Lillard was on the couch like the rest of us, only infinitely more embarrassed.
The loss capped off the second straight season that the Portland Trail Blazers overachieved in the regular season, only to be blitzed in the postseason. It was the second time in three postseason berths that Lillard’s Blazers were swept; the third time in four appearances that the Blazers were eliminated in five games or less.
It was fair to question the ceiling of the Blazers at that point. The Lillard-McCollum tandem scored in bunches, but neither offered much resistance on the other end. There was no third star to carry the load. Thanks to one of the league’s more inflexible cap sheets, there wasn’t room to sign that guy. They didn’t possess the assets to reasonably trade for that guy, though they did make attempts.