2014 NBA Playoffs: Damian Lillard Must Keep Ball Moving for Trail Blazers to Upset Spurs

By Cody Williams
Lillard Blazers ball movement
Troy Taormina – USA Today Sports Images

In game one of the second round series of the 2014 NBA Playoffs between the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs, one team looked like they’d been there before and like they were in complete control; the other team was the Trail Blazers. Subsequently, the 24-point win for the Spurs is not a surprising result at all.

San Antonio executed a complete annihilation of Portland on both ends of the floor. San Antonio shot 50.6 percent from the field in game one while limiting the Trail Blazers to just 37.8 percent shooting from the floor and, most importantly, just 4-16 shooting from long-range.

Coming off his series-clinching shot in game six of the first round, Damian Lillard wasn’t able to be the leader that he’s been for Portland over much of the season. Though he put up 17 points, he shot just 6-15 from the floor, took just one three-point attempt, notched just three assists and turned the ball over six times.

With Lillard and much of the team, you can chalk up a lot of their struggles to the fact that they just weren’t knocking down shots. However, what’s more glaring in how Portland struggled in game one of this series is how stagnant the Spurs rendered their offense. The Trail Blazers didn’t help themselves, though, as they seemed to settle for a lot of isolation or post-up plays which resulted in a noticeable lack of ball-movement in their offense. As a result, Portland had only a meager nine assists on the evening.

The result of Portland’s lack of ball-movement, other than that strikingly low assist total, is the fact that many of the shots they were taking were contested. Per NBA.com player tracking data, just over 70 percent of the Trail Blazers’ shots in game one were contested. That’s obviously not the ideal way for them to run their offense.

For the Trail Blazers to right the ship against the Spurs, their defense isn’t going to be able to stop San Antonio. While Portland is talented, they’ve shown time and again this season that they have serious shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. As a result, this team has to slug it out with the Spurs in a scoring-battle. The only way that’s going to work in their favor is if their zipping the ball around the perimeter and elsewhere, ironically similar to how the Spurs’ offense operates.

The bulk of getting the ball moving in the offense going forward in this series is going to fall on Lillard. The second-year point guard is fantastic in isolation, but he and his team were also at the best early in the season when their ball-movement was pristine and abundant. Lillard is the guy who gets them into that type of rhythm and it often results in good looks for their bevy of offensive weapons.

Lillard and the Trail Blazers have to make a concerted effort on Thursday night to keep the ball whizzing around and not just try to rely on isolations and post-ups once again. The Spurs may still dominate even if Portland gets their offense clicking under Lillard in this manner. However, the Trail Blazers will be much more likely to grab a win.

Cody Williams is a Senior Writer with Rant Sports. Follow Cody on Twitter @TheSizzle20, add him on Google and like his Facebook page.

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