Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers Take 2-0 Series Lead vs Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, right, reacts after making a basket as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, trails the play during the first half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Portland, Ore., Sunday, April 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

Steve Dipaola/Associated Press

The Portland Trail Blazers are two wins away from their second playoff series victory in five years following Tuesday’s 114-94 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 at Moda Center.

Oklahoma City swept Portland in their four regular-season matchups, but the first-round playoff series has been a different story as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed defended home court in the opening two games.

Damian Lillard (29 points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals, two blocks and four made three-pointers) and CJ McCollum (33 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three made three-pointers) were too much for the Thunder, and Maurice Harkless added 14 points and nine boards in support.

Paul George (27 points and eight rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) spearheaded the losing effort for Oklahoma City.

          

Dame, CJ Combo Will Propel Trail Blazers to Western Conference Finals

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Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson won’t be the only dynamic duo backcourt in the Western Conference Finals.

Lillard and McCollum were brilliant for extended stretches in Tuesday’s game and set the stage for their eventual run to the third round of the playoffs. Any time OKC built momentum, one of them darted through the lane, drilled a critical three-pointer or facilitated for teammates when defenders came too far out on their shots or collapsed on their penetration.

McCollum drilled a buzzer-beater three on a beautiful assist from his running mate to tie the game at the half, and they went into takeover mode the rest of the way.

The ball is always in one of their hands, which means they are in complete control much like in Game 1 when Lillard connected on monumental triples—including one from well beyond the arc to push the lead to four with less than three minutes remaining—to ice the win.

While Lillard is known for his offense, his suffocating defense on Westbrook on the other end was the primary reason the 2016-17 MVP went a mere 5-of-20 from the field and struggled to establish a rhythm throughout the game.

The talent, clutch factor and ability to rely on each other when one is either struggling or facing an elite defender is one reason the Trail Blazers will be in the Western Conference Finals, but so is their position in the Western Conference bracket.

Mighty Golden State is on the other side. The Houston Rockets, who are likely the Warriors’ primary challengers after pushing them to seven games in last season’s Western Conference Finals, are on the other side of the bracket. The red-hot Utah Jazz that finished the regular season with a 13-3 run are on the other side of the bracket.

Even the scrappy Los Angeles Clippers, who overcame a 31-point deficit against the Warriors in Monday’s contest and would bring a physical presence throughout an extended series, are on the other side of the bracket.

If Portland can parlay its 2-0 lead over the Thunder into a series victory, its backcourt combination won’t have to deal with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Chris Paul or Donovan Mitchell until the Western Conference Finals.

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It will play either the Denver Nuggets or San Antonio Spurs in the second round, which feature their own concerns.

Denver is inexperienced at this time of year, seeing how it made the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign. It also hasn’t won a playoff series since 2009 and already lost home-court advantage to the Spurs in Game 1.

San Antonio deserves respect with the infrastructure in place with Gregg Popovich and 22 straight playoff appearances, but the Spurs don’t have the defensive capability to slow Lillard and McCollum. They were an ugly 20th in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com, and no longer have a stopper like Kawhi Leonard to prevent the guards from taking over in crunch time.

Get ready for a showdown between the Lillard-McCollum tandem and Curry-Thompson tandem because Portland’s guards are going to propel the Blazers into the Western Conference Finals.

             

What’s Next?

The series shifts to Oklahoma City for Friday’s Game 3 and Sunday’s Game 4.

           

This article will be updated to provide more information soon.

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NBA News

via Bleacher Report – NBA http://bit.ly/2gMI6gF

April 16, 2019 at 10:27PM

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