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Overcoming Extra Defensive Pressure Crucial for Lillard & Blazers

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The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor detailed how opposing defenses approach guarding Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

Portland Trail Blazers v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Led by star guard Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers’ offense hit its rhythm in the march to the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Now that the postseason has arrived, opposing defenses are poised to ramp up the pressure. If the Blazers hope to pull off an upset against the Nuggets, they will need to find a way to mitigate the aggressive approach that Lillard is likely to face.

On Monday, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor highlighted the three players that are blitzed the most in pick-and-roll sets. Unsurprisingly, Lillard topped the list that also included Steph Curry and Bradley Beal.

But Curry, Lillard, and Beal are treated differently than the NBA norm. They were the only three players who were blitzed in the pick-and-roll more often than they were switched against, according to Second Spectrum. Combined, defenses blitzed them in the pick-and-roll 16 percent of the time, and switched only 9 percent of chances.

O’Connor also explained that the Blazers’ offense makes a noticeable decline in efficiency when Lillard is blitzed. O’Connor utilized Portland’s 10-2 finish to the regular season as his data sample.

The Blazers ran 36 pick-and-rolls per game with Lillard as the ball handler over this stretch, and he made defenses pay for dropping their big man, scoring 1.2 points per chance against the coverage. Lillard also sliced up switches, logging 1.1 points per chance. But during this time frame, the Blazers struggled to score efficiently when Lillard got blitzed. It’s been a challenge all season (only 0.98 points per chance); Lillard is forced to pass and there’s no guarantee he’ll get the ball back.

Near the end of his analysis, O’Connor suggests that the Blazers can put added pressure on the Nuggets by mixing in more isolation looks for Lillard. In the regular season, Lillard averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 assists per game.

You can read the full story from O’Connor at The Ringer.