Damian Lillard after Blazers' elimination: Trying to defeat the Warriors became an obsession

PORTLAND, Ore. -- After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he's developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.

"You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they're so good that they're going to be there," Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. "That's who you're going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That's what it is."

Lillard recorded 34 points and six assists in 41 minutes on Monday and was 12-of-24 from the field. The rest of his team shot 21-for-61, equating to 34 percent.

The Trail Blazers squeezed into the final playoff spot (41-41) after a disappointing start to the season. They were expected to take the next step after a 44-38 record during the 2015-16 season.

The two-time All-Star is proud of the team's push down the stretch of the regular season, but he said he's not satisfied.

"I wouldn't say it was a successful year," Lillard told ESPN. "We got tested, and I think we answered the bell. I felt like we showed our true colors by the way we fought. But I wouldn't say successful. I think it was growth. A year of growth for us."

In last year's playoffs, the Warriors bounced the Trail Blazers out of the second round in five games.

Lillard's anger was evident after Monday's lopsided loss. "I don't even know what to think right now," he said. "It's very frustrating. But you know me: I'm going to come back stronger than ever."

When addressing the media, Lillard spoke highly about how well the Warriors play together and how everyone is on the same wavelength. He has realized that the Trail Blazers must take a page out of the Warriors' book.

"You also got to understand that if you ever want to get out of the West, you're going to have to go through them," Lillard said during his media address. "And for me, I understand that's what it is. It's always been that way in the NBA. I think about when the Pistons were just beating up on [Michael] Jordan. [They] were just kicking his butt every year, and he had to get through them if he wanted to get to where he wanted to get to. That's just what it is. [The Warriors are] going to be there. They're going to be there every year. We have to look at that and understand that we got to be better. We have to go get better,and come back better as a group if we want to move past them."

Kevin Durant loves Lillard's competitive spirit. He told ESPN that the Trail Blazers are a few pieces from contending.

"I think they want somebody on the wing that can take the pressure off those two guards [C.J. McCollum and Lillard], somebody that's big for their position. But they're right there, man. They're a good team. They started off slow. I think they should have been a higher seed, but they fought their way to get in the playoffs. They have a future center in [Jusuf] Nurkic who took them over the top, but I think they need another ball handler on the wing to get them going. It's going to be fun playing against these guys in the next few years."

This is the second straight season the Warriors have eliminated Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers in the playoffs after Golden State defeated the Blazers 4-1 in the second round in 2016. AP Photo/Steve Dykes



Series sweeps show Warriors and Cavaliers are still the teams to beat

The game was almost over before it ever really began. Seven minutes into game four in Portland on Monday night, the Warriors built a 30-7 lead over the Trail Blazers – and from there, Portland never stood a chance of winning. The Warriors eventually prevailed 128-103, completing a four-game sweep that ended the Trail Blazers’ season.

It was the second playoff elimination in as many days for the NBA. On Sunday, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers by the somewhat less comfortable score of 106-102, sweeping them from the playoffs and possibly even ending Paul George’s Pacers career.

It should come as no surprise that the Warriors and Cavaliers were the only two teams to sweep their opening-round series. Conventional wisdom says that, for the third straight year, the Warriors and Cavaliers will most likely represent their respective conferences in the NBA finals. In some respects, this is exactly what championship teams are supposed to do in the opening round of the playoffs: swiftly cut down their own opposition while other teams are busy battling each other just to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Funnily enough, the Cavs and Warriors have managed to do so without playing their best basketball. The Cavaliers, mostly notably, looked downright atrocious for the first two and a half games against the Pacers. Then came the second half of game three, the moment when Cleveland flipped the proverbial switch and pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in NBA playoff history, riding a 41-point performance from LeBron James that helped to erase a 26-point deficit. They beat the Pacers 119-114, a loss so gut-wrenching that it felt like Indiana had no shot of bouncing back. And they didn’t. With the victory on Sunday, James won his 21st straight first-round game while appearing in his 10th career series sweep.

But just because the Cavaliers ended up sweeping the Pacers doesn’t mean that everything is going smoothly. Their defense remains a huge question mark. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have only been sporadically effective, and were practically glued to the bench during their team’s game three comeback. Yes, Cleveland won all four games, but they only outscored Portland by a combined total of 16 points, making it one of the least dominant sweeps in NBA playoff history. It’s probably helpful that they will have an extra few days to regroup: the Cavaliers have a lot to figure out, and the competition is only going to get tougher.

The Warriors had an easier time in taking care of the Trail Blazers. The only close game of the series was their 119-113 win on Saturday (AKA the JaVale game) which, oddly enough, might have been their best win so far, as they erased a 16-point deficit in less than five minutes. It was an impressive accomplishment, especially since Kevin Durant was out with a calf injury and Mike Brown was pressed into emergency head coaching duties in place of the seriously ailing Steve Kerr.

While the Warriors have been good, we hadn’t really seen them at their frightening best this postseason until Monday night’s massacre. With Durant back in the lineup and Steph Curry (37 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) finally heating up, Golden State looks nigh on invulnerable. They scored 45 points in the first quarter alone, tying an NBA playoff record. (I know: at this point it might be faster to point out when something didn’t tie or break an NBA record.)

While the Warriors are in a much better shape than the Cavaliers, there’s still plenty of uncertainty to be found here. Nobody knows how healthy Durant really is, how much time he will actually spend on the court, or how effective he will be when he is. If Kerr misses most, if not all, of the postseason, is anyone truly comfortable with Brown as head coach? (I just imagined a thousand LA Lakers fans shaking their heads.) Is Curry back, or is there another cold streak coming in the not-so-distant future?

The good news for the Cavaliers and Warriors is that they don’t have to be perfect if they want to win. They just have to be better than the competition. Looking at the remaining teams, you would be hard-pressed to find one that has fewer question marks than either Golden State or Cleveland. This, of course, brings us back to how they were able to sweep their opponents while nearly all the remaining series are scheduled to go at least six games. At this point, the Warriors and Cavaliers don’t need to send a message to remind us that they’re the favorites for a reason. They have, nonetheless, done so.

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