Aside from the dominant first-quarter offensive dominance by Dwight Howard in Game 2, there have been few bright spots for the Houston Rockets in the first round. The Portland Trail Blazers have outplayed and outcoached the Rockets in every aspect of the first two games, which has helped them take a 2-0 series lead despite playing both games on the road.
In playoff losses, the tendency for most fans is to look at the negatives and to simply dismiss any positives from the contests. However, Patrick Beverley should be commended for his defensive performance on Damian Lillard in Game 2.
On the surface, it may seem like Beverley has had a hard time defending Portland’s second-year floor general, as Lillard has averaged 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game in the two contests. However, as all fans should know by now, numbers don’t tell the whole story. This is a clear-cut case of statistics being inflated by usage, as Lillard’s numbers far outweigh his performance in the first two games.
In Game 1, Lillard turned heads with his poise, but until Beverley checked out of the game with his fifth foul around the four-minute mark, Lillard was relatively quiet. Once Beverley exited, which happened during the Hack-a-Howard comeback, Lillard found his groove while being guarded by Jeremy Lin. Lillard scored seven of the next nine Blazers’ points and assisted on the other basket. Once Beverley checked out, Lillard saw his opportunity and ran with it.
When Beverley returned, his tweaked knee slowed him down noticeably, although he still came up with a huge block on Lillard down the stretch.
In Game 2, Beverley essentially blanked Lillard, forcing him to go 3-for-14 from the floor. Beverley was a ball of energy all game, not allowing Lillard to get any breathing room and constantly forcing him into contested shots. Although Lillard did net 11 assists, it’s hard to pin those on Beverley, who drew the second-toughest defensive assignment and rose to the occasion accordingly.
Unfortunately for Beverley, he’s going to receive very little recognition for what he did to Lillard in Game 2 because Houston lost the game. If the Rockets would have won, ESPN would have had their “experts” gushing over Beverley’s old-school mentality and relentless nature, dubbing him the best defensive point guard in the NBA (which he is, partially because he can afford to focus all his energy on that end of the floor).
Moving forward in the series, Beverley will need to keep up his defensive supremacy over Lillard if the Rockets want to have any chance of coming back. Obviously, Houston mainly needs to focus on finding a way to stop LaMarcus Aldridge and finding a way to get James Harden back into his groove, but Beverley continuing his awe-inspiring defense on Lillard is just as important in the grand scheme of things.
Going into the series, I had faith in Beverley’s ability to slow down Lillard, which I thought would be a big reason why Houston would come out on top. So far, I was partially right and partially wrong. Yes, Beverley has done a superb job on the Weber State-product, but no, slowing down Lillard hasn’t been enough to pull out a win.
There are a lot of variables in an NBA series, and although Houston has done so many things poorly in the first two games, Beverley’s defense has been a positive for the boys in red. If Houston turns this thing around, Harden will probably receive a lot of the credit (if he’s the one who leads them to victory), but it will be The Pest of the West in the trenches.