Damian Lillard Explodes in Hometown Debut, Locks Up Rookie of the Year

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2013

January 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With a jam-packed, raucous suite of family and friends behind him, Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard did all he could to try to give his team its second straight come-from-behind win in as many nights.

One night after his teammates rallied from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to hand the defending champion Miami Heat a stunning 92-90 defeat, the Trail Blazers faced the identical situation inside of Oracle Arena.

But the Warriors' lead, once as great as 20 points, dwindled with each three-point bomb and dime delivered by the dynamic point guard out of Weber State.

Lillard scored 17 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter. Despite increasing defensive attention, he produced the type of shooting performance rarely seen from NBA superstars, let alone players with a whopping 36 games of NBA experience:


Make it 12 straight makes and 37 pts for Lillard now. #truth

— Earl K. Sneed (@EKS_MavsNBA) January 12, 2013


Warriors coach Mark Jackson tried what he could to limit Lillard's scoring chances, but the rookie responded with a series of debilitating drives and heat-check looks.

And those very looks were consistently burning the Warriors in a way that few rookie opponents ever had:


Most points ever by rookie vs. the Warriors is 55 by Brandon Jennings (11/14/09). Last with 37+ was Roddy Beaubois (40) on 3/27/10

— #GSWStats (@gswstats) January 12, 2013


Lillard showed once again why the NBA has seen such a dynamic shift at the point guard position. When the best player on the team is the one handling the ball, nothing but good things are bound to happen. And once that player goes on a run like this, defenses are forced to over-commit, leaving themselves at the mercy of some of the world's greatest playmakers.

Ultimately, his Trail Blazers fell short by a margin of 103-97. As special as Lillard's performance was, it couldn't overcome the abysmal offensive efforts of LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews (combined 17 points on 6-of-29 shooting).

It certainly left the night on a sour note for Lillard, but didn't lessen the level of impressiveness for the observers:


What a game for Dame's fam and friends to see. Their boy came home and put on a hell of a show. Beautiful, despite the loss.

— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) January 12, 2013


The sixth overall selection erased any lingering doubts about who was taking home the 2013 rookie hardware. He was already leading his 2012 draft-class peers in scoring (18 per game) and assists (6.5) before Friday night's explosion.

Lost amid Lillard's monster effort was yet another impressive win for the Golden State Warriors. Behind 46 combined points from Stephen Curry and David Lee, the team reached an unfortunate achievement in the game, but an achievement nonetheless:


With tonight's win, the #Warriors (23-12) have matched their win total from last season. #LetsGoWarriors

— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) January 12, 2013


With both clubs battling for playoff position, this matchup could be well on its way to can't-miss status. (If it's already at that point for you, you'd be wise to clear up any plans you may have scheduled for March 30 when Lillard and company return to the Bay.)

By that time, it may even be featuring a few first-time All-Stars in Lillard and Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

Then again, in a packed Western Conference, there may not be room for both players on the roster.

If that's the case, and the ensuing battle for that spot looks anything like Friday night's head-to-head war, then I'm draining my savings account for court-side seats.