Damian Lillard grew up going to games at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. As Draymond Green said during the Golden State Warriors’ series against the Houston Rockets, “He plays like a guy from Oakland.”
With a 100-96 win over the Denver Nuggets, Lillard — a graduate of Oakland High School — and his Portland Trail Blazers advanced to the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. On Tuesday, at 6 p.m., he’ll return to the place he spent much of his childhood for Game 1.
The series between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the Western Conference will likely be short, but will be intriguing. Among the storylines, Lillard’s return to Oakland and his affinity for 30-foot shots, the match-up between Golden State’s Steph Curry and his younger brother Seth and the rise of a new, young power in the West.
To get to the conference finals, the Blazers had to knock off yet another Western Conference team on the come up, in Denver. The Nuggets, who were in and out of the No. 1 spot in the West all season, have patterend themselves after the Warriors, so for Portland to dispatch them in seven has to give the Trail Blazers at least some sense that they can make a series out of their match-up with the NBA title favorites. Except for the fact that Golden State went 3-1 this year against Denver, including a 142-111 thrashing in January.
Lillard has continued to develop into one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, averaging at least 25 points, 5.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game for the fourth straight season. He’s also shot at least 36% from 3-point range in each of the last four seasons, and averaged at least 35 minutes per game and over 73 games per year in each of his seven NBA seasons (with four All-Star nods).
Lillard will return to Oakland, playing in some of the final NBA playoff games to ever be hosted in the arena where he grew up, an arena the Warriors will leave after 47 seasons this summer to play at the Chase Center in San Francisco. He’ll also be facing a team that, as in those two early losses, will not have DeMarcus Cousins (though reports have stated that he may wind up returning froma torn quad for the end of the series), but may have Kevin Durant.
Durant went down in Thursday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference Semfinals against the Houston Rockets with a right calf strain, and the Warriors bench — along with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry — had virutoso performances in Game 6 without him to close out the Rockets on the road. Andre Iguodala went off for 17 points and three assists, Kevon Looney had 14 points and five boards, Shaun Livingston posted 11 points and two rebounds and Jordan Bell played a stirring 11 minutes, with two rebounds, four points, an assist and two blocks, while Curry scored 33 (23 in the final quarter) and Thompson 27.
All that said, Durant has had arguably the best playoff run of his career. He’s averaging acareer-high 34.2 points per game this postseason, while shooting 51.3% from the field (second only to his 55.6% in 2016-17), taking a career-high 7.0 3-pointers per game and making a career-high 2.9 (his 41.6% from 3-point range is just shy of his 44.2% career-high in 2016-17). Durant is also averaging 4.9 assists per game this postseason, his highest since 2012-13.
He watched the game in his San Francisco home as the Warriors clinched, and is scheduled to be reevaluated at some point this week, though a league source was not sure which day that would happen.
With Curry’s vintage performance in Game 6, his parents Dell and Sonya told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that they will flip a coin before every game to determine who wears which teams colors. Steph and Seth are the first brothers to ever play each other in a conference finals series.
Seth started his career as an undrafted guard out of Duke, but hooked on with the Santa Cruz Warriors in 2013, before stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, was a two-time NBA D-League All-Star (now called the G League) with the Santa Cruz Warriors and Erie BayHawks, participated in the Three-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend this year, along with his older brother.
Seth Curry played in a career-high 74 games for the Trail Blazers, and shot 45% from beyond the 3-point arc, averaging 7.9 points per game.