The Portland Trail Blazers handily dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, 127-115, behind another 40-point game from star point guard Damian Lillard. It was a big night for Lillard, but the pressure to perform in a smaller role was on Portland’s newest addition Matisse Thybulle, who started in place of injured forward Jerami Grant in his Trail Blazers debut.
Thybulle excelled on the floor, notching 14 points while converting four of six three-point attempts and playing stellar defense. After the game, reporters asked him about his defense and whether or not he feels pressure to be the guy who makes the difference defensively in Portland.
It’s funny, like, defense comes so naturally to me. It’s just this instinctual thing. If you put me on a basketball court, I’m going to figure out how to make plays defensively. Similarly, if you put Dame on a basketball court, give him a ball, he’s going to find ways to make shots. It’s just going to happen. So, to that point, it doesn’t really feel like there’s pressure; it feels like a lot of opportunity if anything. I’d say what I’m most excited about is just learning. I really don’t know what I’m doing out there yet, so just learning the defense, learning these guys’ tendencies and things like that so that we can do it together and it’s more of, like, this dance and a movement of cohesiveness, as opposed to me just trying to make plays as an individual.
Which kind of speaks to the nature of defense, too. You don’t just get a Dame on defense and then become a good defensive team.
Yeah, and I think what this team has as a foundation I think allows for them to be a good defensive team. I mean, I was so surprised just, like, guys’ willingness to talk and communicate to each other and the effort that was there. I think just as you get guys that can kind of anchor a defense, that effort will kind of be honed in. Like, as opposed to being this floodlight that kind of becomes wasted energy, it can be narrowed down into a laser. And I think being able to have Jerami back, Nurk back, and myself out there, like, I’m really excited to see what that will look like for us defensively.
Jusuf Nurkic (strained calf) is not expected to return until after the NBA All-Star break, whereas Grant is day-to-day in the NBA’s concussion protocol. When those two return, we will begin to see just what this team is capable of on the defensive end with Thybulle as a component. For now, Portland will gladly take his defensive playmaking as an individual.