Damian Lillard’s NBA Playoff Brilliance Is On Display

Damian Lillard is using the NBA playoffs to solidify his status as a brand name. 

Damian Lillard’s been undervalued for most of his NBA career, but he finally has the power to change that. All the 6-foot-3 dynamic guard has to do is continue to perform the way he has so far in the first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs. Lillard has outplayed former MVP Russell Westbrook and laid 59 clutch points on the Oklahoma City Thunder to left the Portland Trailblazers to a 2-0 series lead.  

Lillard’s been a poster child for NBA All-Star snubs early in his career, but recently Lillard’s name has been the subject of  a heated social media debate. There’s a growing contingent of NBA fans who believe Dame is just as good as two-time MVP Steph Curry.  The audacity of the comparison is a huge leap from where Lillard began. Portland’s leading scorer wasn’t even a blip on the radar when Curry was winning MVPs. Now he’s finally in the conversation.

https://twitter.com/SeventyWhiskers/status/1115454458396389381

If Lillard keeps lighting it up at crucial moments, Portland could advance deep into these NBA playoffs, which would boost his credibility even more. 

It’s not Dame’s fault that he’s not the household name compared to other NBA guards. He’s played his entire seven -year career in Portland — the NBA’s 22nd-ranked media market out of 30 teams —  during an era when high scoring, multi-faceted guards have taken over the NBA, are winning MVPs and making deep playoff runs.

Lillard hit the ground running and was NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013, averaging 19 points per game. He never looked back. He’s a 23.5 ppg career scorer with four All-Star appearances. On the flip side, he’s had almost as many All-Star snubs and his name tends to fall on the outside of the “NBA’s best guard” discussion.

Lillard has always taken a backseat to household MVPs like Curry,Westbrook and Rockets scoring machine James Harden.  

Trying to shine in a league that already has the sun, a meteor, a cataclysmic explosion and some shooting stars has been a challenge for Lillard. There’s not much real estate left to build on. That’s what makes playoff success for Lillard and his underrated backcourt mate CJ McCollum. The playoffs are where stars become superstars. Portland’s made the playoffs in five of Lillard’s seven seasons. 

Unfortunately, Portland has never made it past the semifinals to a primetime stage. Dame’s had plenty of sick statistical outputs, but he hasn’t had his career-defining moment. Last year’s first round sweep didn’t do anything to help his status as a superstar performer, but it was a minor setback.

Lillard returned this season on a mission to advance to the Conference Finals. That will be a tough task in the West, but Portland finished third in the conference and Lillard’s confidence and celebrity is at an all-time high.

Attitudes towards Portland is changing. It’s all about the grind and Dame doesn’t stop grinding. Back in March, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith picked them to go to the NBA Finals

Despite being overlooked early in his career, Lillard’s celebrity profile has been on a slow upswing, so much that in 2018 Lillard got his first All-NBA First Team nod, solidifying himself as one of the game’s best attractions.

https://twitter.com/NBAFRANCE/status/999713901452447744

I can’t remember the last time a Portland Trailblazer made All-NBA. Maybe recording hip-hop fire and putting it out on social media for the world to see has heightened Dame D.O.L.L.A’s visibility and popularity.  

He’s constantly proving that just because he plays in Portland doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a big city persona

The All-NBA nod also proved that Lillard is finally considered elite by the media. It was a complete 360 from the prior two seasons, when Lillard had career stats but still failed to make any of the three All-NBA teams. Dudes like DeMar DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas, Victor Oladipo and John Wall were considered more worthy.

It was the love Lillard has craved since he was an overlooked two-star recruit coming out of Oakland before going to underhalded Weber State — one of the few schools to offer him a D-1 scholarship.

It’s been a slow burn to this point for Lillard, but he is on the cusp of asserting himself as the next legit MVP candidate. The NBA seems to have a new one every year and 2020 might be Dame’s turn. Especially if he can set it up by continuing to create playoff magic for a Portland team that hasn’t been to the Conference Final since the 1999-2000 season.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.