NBA Playoffs 2019: How the Warriors defended Damian Lillard in Game 1, and what he can do to counter in Game 2

Damian Lillard was held to 19 points on 4-of-12 shooting in Portland’s Game 1 loss to the Warriors. If the Blazers are going to steal Game 2 and even up this series before Kevin Durant potentially returns, that can’t happen again. The Blazers simply don’t have the firepower to beat Golden State without Lillard playing, and scoring, big. 

The Warriors know this, and in Game 1 they were all over Lillard. They doubled or at least soft trapped him off almost every pick and roll. They wanted the ball out of Lillard’s hands, first and foremost. But if he was going to force his offense, he certainly was going to do it against multiple defenders. It worked. Lillard was playing in congestion all night. Let’s look at some of the Game 1 film and see how Lillard can adjust to get himself going in Game 2. 

Less Pick and Roll

Running pick and roll is Lillard’s bread and butter, and for good reason. He’s one of the deadliest 3-point shooters in the league off that high ball screen, and when defenses extend out, he’s great at turning the corner or splitting the double and getting downhill to the rim or finding shooters on the kick-out. The rub is that by involving a screener in Lillard’s action, you are also bringing a second defender into the equation. It makes it easy to trap and double with the second defender already right there, which either forces the ball out of Lillard’s hands or makes him attack in congestion. Look here:

And here again:

In this next clip, Lillard, by setting up the pick and roll with Enes Kanter, goes from being guarded by just one elite defender in Klay Thompson to inviting two elite defenders — Draymond Green and Thompson — to track him out to 35 feet. Even when Lillard “makes the right play” after drawing the double and finds a teammate, the Warriors are happy with that tradeoff, because Kanter is obviously not the playmaker that Lillard is. Look how this action completely stalls after Lillard is forced to give the ball up. 

So here’s the question: Would you rather have Lillard creating his own shot off the dribble or Seth Curry? That play above began with Lillard in a one-on-one matchup with Thompson. He could’ve just attacked. By calling for the screen, and thus inviting the double team, the ball ended up in Curry’s hands and it was him who had to make the play off the dribble. Clearly you’d rather have Lillard creating offense than Curry. 

Now, this isn’t to suggest the Blazers would ever — nor should they — abandon the pick and roll. It’s what got them here. Lillard is great at it. A lot of good comes from it, including switches that put Lillard in more favorable matchups. That said, there’s an argument to be made that, in some cases, bringing the second defender is merely complicating what could be a pretty straightforward one-on-one situation for the Blazers’ best player. Which brings us to …

More Isolation for Lillard

Lillard’s first bucket of Game 1 was a step-back 3-pointer against Draymond Green. No screen to bring a second defender. Just a spaced floor that allowed Lillard to do his thing free of congestion.

For the playoffs, Lillard is averaging 1.03 points per possession in isolation situations. That’s second only to James Harden and the best mark of any player remaining in the postseason, including Kevin Durant, who is probably the best isolation player in the world. Indeed, if Lillard can get this comfortable of a shot, against an elite defender like Green no less, what need is there for a screen that is only going to bring congestion?

Here, instead of waiting for a ball screen, Lillard just isolates on Andre Iguodala, beats him, and creates a wide-open 3-pointer for Moe Harkless:

Without bringing a second defender and a screener into the fold, look at how much more breathing room Lillard has to create. Pay no mind, by the way, to Harkless missing that shot. That is good offense that produced a great shot — a shot that the Blazers, if they’re to have any chance of competing in this series, will simply have to make at a better clip than the 25 percent they shot from 3-point range in Game 1. 

Now, understand that the Warriors aren’t just going to let Lillard isolate freely. In Game 1, they were almost always shading two and even three bodies in his direction. In a lot of cases, they’re still going to bring a double team. But here’s the difference: When Lillard is spaced out on his own, the second defender has to come from farther away, thus vacating a bigger space to be exploited. 

Look here as Kanter, instead of setting a ball screen, cuts through the lane and heads for the dunker spot on the baseline. Now that no second defender has been hand-delivered into Lillard’s space, Jordan Bell has to vacate the paint to double, ultimately leaving one defender to guard two guys on the back side. Simple pass, simple bucket:

There is more than one way for Lillard to end up in isolation. In the play above, the Blazers ran him off the ball and got it to him on the wing off a flare screen. Most times he’s going to be bringing the ball up the court, either in transition or off a make, and he can simply attack early without calling for a pick, which is what I think he should do more of in Game 2. 

Ball screens are the other way. Yes, they bring a second defender and I’ve now spent quite a while saying how that’s not necessarily a good thing, but the Warriors don’t always double in these situations. In a lot of cases, they switch and still play it one-on-one. This is simple: When Lillard runs a ball screen, and he gets a switch that gives him a matchup advantage, he has to attack right away before the Warriors can change up. Which brings us, finally, to this:

Go at Stephen Curry

The Warriors are not afraid to let Curry defend one-on-one, and he’s a much better defender than people give him credit for. But he can’t check Lillard, plain and simple. Watch the play below, in which Lillard receives a ball screen, gets Curry switched onto him, but instead of attacking, he waits, calls for another ball screen, which brings a second defender and a double team and forces Lillard to give up the ball when he had Curry one-on-one to start. Now, this is what happens:

Compare that to this next play. Same deal: Lillard gets a ball screen, Curry switches onto him, but this time Lillard doesn’t wait for a second defender to become involved and just attacks Curry right away for a clean look and a bucket. 

So you see, keep it simple. Don’t bring a second defender if you don’t need to. When you do run ball screens and get the switch you’re looking for, attack before Golden State can change up. For the Blazers to win Game 2 — which feels like a must with Kevin Durant out again and teams that go down 0-2 losing the series over 93 percent of the time — they have to get more out of Lillard, who in turn has to find some more operating space than he did in Game 1. These are a few ways Portland might look to create cleaner scoring opportunities for their best player. 

Read this article from its original source at