Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers fell short of their collective goal in 2020-21, having been dispatched in a six-game series against the Denver Nuggets. Despite that, league insiders weren’t hesitant about giving Lillard’s individual performance its proper adulation. ESPN’s NBA experts joined together to make picks on the Most Valuable Player of the postseason’s first round, with Lillard commanding a top spot.
Lillard earned the No. 5 spot, joining Luka Doncic as one of just two players to make ESPN’s list despite not advancing further to the semifinals. Kirk Goldsberry had this assessment when describing Lillard’s play:
“Technically speaking, Lillard’s 55-point masterpiece in Game 5 against Denver was not enough. The Nuggets won and went on to eliminate the Blazers in Game 6. But here’s the thing: Lillard’s incredible shooting outburst proved he’s one of the most lethal crunch-time performers this league has ever seen. If that’s not valuable, I don’t know what is.
Lillard broke the record for most 3-pointers ever in a series in just six games, but his team failed to match his intensity and his execution. He deserves a better supporting cast, one that complements him with better defense and more interior scoring.
It would be great to see Dame Time in the NBA Finals, but unless his supporting cast gets better, that won’t happen.”
By the numbers, Lillard averaged 34.3 points, 10.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game on 46-45-94 percentage splits, and became the first player in NBA history to produce a 55-point, 10-assist Playoff game.
The panel hit on five other players, as well as six honorable mentions. The rest of the list can be found here.