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In End To A Special Season, Longest-Tenured Trail Blazers Share Spotlight

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Damian LIllard and Meyers Leonard, who have been with the Trail Blazers longer than any other players, shine in the overtime loss to Golden State that ends a special 2018-19 season.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, the questions about the future will come soon enough. But after Damian Lillard’s fadeaway 3-point attempt missed at the end of overtime Monday, the sellout crowd at the Moda Center didn’t sprint for the exits. A majority stuck around to give the Blazers one final ovation to end a memorable 2018-19 season.
The end came at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, the two-time defending champions who earned a fifth consecutive trip the NBA Finals with a 119-117 overtime win at the Moda Center to complete a 4-0 sweep. The loss ended the deepest playoff run the Blazers have made in 19 years.
“I think it was a special season for us,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said.
Perhaps fittingly, the night from Portland’s perspective belonged to the two players who have been here since the beginning of this current run of Blazers basketball, who both joined the roster as lottery picks in the 2012 draft.
Lillard, who joined the team as the No. 6 pick, is the team’s star player, and he had his best game of the series, finishing with 28 points and 12 assists – the latter a career playoff high. He did so despite playing with separated ribs he suffered in Game 2 at Golden State.
“I’ve said it many times, Damian is not only a special player, but a special person,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s a great competitor and he hates to lose and wants to do whatever it takes to win a game.”
Lillard never used the injury as an excuse, not talking about it until it was reported after Game 3, and he played through obvious pain, driving to the basket and even taking a charge. Whether the injury caused some of the misses he had late, when he shot 3 for 11 in the fourth quarter and overtime, or whether that was a product of Golden State’s defensive focus on him, Lillard made no excuses.
“Obviously it’s pain, but it’s not something that affected anything involving like my performance or me having to leave all out there,” Lillard said. “I was going to leave it all out there the same way if I was 100 percent healthy, but that’s just what it was. I went out there, the season was on the line, I did what I could.”
Center Meyers Leonard, who came in with Lillard in 2012 as the No. 11 pick, had the game of lifetime for him. Pressed into the starting lineup for a second consecutive game after being in and out of the rotation late in the season — with 17 DNPs in the final 32 games of the regular season, and five in the playoffs — Leonard scored a career-high 30 points, six more than he had previously in any NBA game, and 14 more than he has ever scored in the playoffs.
On a team that badly needed an outlet when Lillard or fellow guard CJ McCollum was blitzed repeatedly, Leonard did what starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu (no points) and Maurice Harkless (five points) were not able to all series – make the open shots that the Warriors were leaving by focusing on the Portland’s guards. Leonard shot 12 for 16 from the field, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range.
For stretches in the first half, Leonard dominated the game, scoring 25 points. The home crowd ate it up, chanting his name loudly. Leonard’s effectiveness served its purpose, opening opportunities for Lillard, who scored 14 points in the second half.
“I thought the game softened up when Meyers Leonard started making 3’s,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “We had to make some adjustments, and as soon as we did that, Damian’s eyes lit up. He started seeing single coverage, and he got going.”
The 7-foot-1 Leonard has had an up-and-down seven seasons in Portland, never blossoming into a consistent starter – in 393 regular season games, he started 42 times – or even a rotation regular.

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