Damian Lillard scored 31 points against Houston on Sunday, and the best might yet be to come. While Patrick Beverley has become somewhat of a rival of Lillard's -- and a heel for fans in Portland -- the Rockets guard didn't do a very good job of stopping Lillard in the Blazers' OT win, 122-120, in Game 1. With Beverley spraining his right knee, things could get worse for Houston.
Beverley has been in Lillard's hip pocket all season, hoping to force turnovers and to limit the Blazers guard from the three-point line. Sunday night in Houston, Beverley failed. Lillard committed just one turnover and shot 42 percent on seven attempts from long range.
That's not to say Lillard's game wasn't affected by Beverley. Lillard was met at halfcourt on every possession, he was denied him the ball when he wasn't bringing it up, and he was swarmed while trying to make entry passes into the post.
But Portland's All-Star guard took advantage of his opportunities. Beverley had a tendency to ball-watch on plays in the post, and Lillard made a nice cut to get to the rack in OT that Robin Lopez flushed for a dunk. There were several plays where Beverley took his eyes off his mark, so Portland should look to capitalize on that deficiency in Game 2.
This backdoor lob the Blazers love to run for Lillard could work nicely.
Portland loves to run this backdoor play for Damian Lillard.
Beverley has said publicly that he plans to play on Wednesday despite suffering a right knee sprain in Game 1. If he is hampered at all, or unable to play, Rockets coach Kevin McHale may be forced to put another Houston wing on Damian Lillard. That will be trouble.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons all guarded Lillard in Game 1, and all met the same fate: domination. Portland sought out Harden, and ran several wing screens to switch the bearded All-Star onto Lillard. Jeremy Lin couldn't stay in front of him to save his life and Parsons, despite his length, just didn't have the foot speed to keep up.
Portland set out to establish three things offensively on Sunday night. First, they put LaMarcus Aldridge in the post early and often against Terrence Jones to establish a low block presence. Second, they put Wesley Matthews down low to take advantage of Harden's defensive inequities. Finally, they got out in transition as a means to counteract the Houston fast break, scoring 18 points off the break to the Rockets' 13.
As such, Lillard had a quiet 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in the first half. That changed when he took over with less than five minutes in the fourth quarter, and the combination of his 31 points with Aldridge's 46 hit a playoff mark not seen since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did it in 1992.
If Beverley is unable to guard Lillard effectively, the Houston backcourt will likely be in for a long night. Lillard struck when the opportunity presented itself in Game 1, probing when the defense collapsed on Terry Stotts' aforementioned gameplan. If Lin, Harden or Parsons is tasked with defending Damian Lillard, Stotts might just change his strategy altogether and feed the second-year guard from the start.
-- Dane Carbaugh | @DaneCarbaugh