Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard had to bow out of his team’s Game 2 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. A finger injury cut his night short in an otherwise dismal affair.
After the game, Dwight Jaynes of NBCSports Northwest asked Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts why the team’s most critical player was still in the game with 1:44 left in the third period, Portland down 30. That prompted this response:
RIP Dwight— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) August 21, 2020
Murdered in cold blood by Terry Stotts pic.twitter.com/hyfcn9cFlO
For those who don’t have video...
Jaynes: Terry, what was Dame doing on the floor with two minutes to go in the third, down by 30?
Stotts: He was playing basketball. Good question, Dwight. [ed: insert sarcasm font here]
We got a few questions in the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag about this, so let’s address it.
It may not have been a good question to ask a coach after a loss, but what WAS Dame doing in the game down 30? We need him to have any chance! Do you blame Stotts for the decision or the response? Do you think the question was out of bounds to ask?
I’m in the camp that media people get to ask whatever questions they want [inside the bounds of personal and societal propriety] and sports figures get to answer however they want. Each can take the consequences of their actions. I’m not conflict-averse in these situations. If Dwight felt he needed to ask the question, he should go for it. I don’t want media members second-guessing or being intimidated if they think something is important. If Terry is in the mood to snip or fire back, also go for it! They’re both big boys. They can handle it. It’s part of both jobs. This should have little lasting effect.
As far as the issue of Dame playing...has anyone watched the Blazers over the last eight years of the Stotts-Lillard partnership? Terry never pulls players and Lillard never wants to come out. I’m surprised when Lillard sitst with 1:44 left in the game, let alone 1:44 left in the third quarter. It’s just not in their DNA to stop before the final horn.
You can argue with those decisions until you’re blue in the face. They’re not going to change unless some outside force (injury or age) mandates it.
People get all nervous about this every time the Blazers get up or down big. I’ll admit, I do too. I don’t see any reason for stars to be in the game when the team is down 20 with 3:00 left. But I’m neither a coach or player. I know they’re not ignorant of the issue or the questions surrounding it. I presume they have reasons.
More to the point, although everyone worries about injuries in every blowout, the actual number of injuries is statistically small. How many times can you remember Dame, or any star, going down in a situation like this? Even if you can, how do we know it wouldn’t have happened the next game anyway?
Contrast that with the number of comebacks to win, or at least make the game close, that happen in NBA games. They’re also not common, but they’re more common than key players getting hurt.
Pulling Lillard with 1:44 left in the third is akin to giving up on that game. The message sent by doing that is clear. The risk of injury isn’t. If they don’t rest him on a Wednesday night in February under these circumstances, they’re sure not going to do it in the midst of a playoffs series.
Though I’d probably pull players earlier than Stotts does from my armchair coaching seat, I’m fine with him not doing so. Maybe if I had his experience (and if I were working with his players) I would see things differently.
Either way, that finger injury wasn’t on Stotts, but every late-game comeback the Blazers have made over the last eight years is.
We’re busy as heck during the playoffs, but feel free to send questions to email@example.com anyway! We’ll get to them now or in the off-season!