On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers led the Portland Trail Blazers by two points at halftime, as Portland's star point guard Damian Lillard had started the game missing nine of his 10 shots. Meanwhile, LA's point guard D'Angleo Russell had masterfully provided six assists to go along with four points and five rebounds in a half that had laid the foundation for a triple-double.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Russell seemingly let that strong start lead to a little bump on Lillard in the third quarter. The Blazers' guard took offense and, quickly, the two players had to be separated. When both players received technical fouls, the Lakers trailed 64-63.
Lillard described the incident to CSN Northwest following the game and spoke out about Russell.
"Since last game, he'd been doing little slick elbows, and I play the game clean," Lillard didn't seem pleased with how Russell had been guarding him in the two meetings between the teams this season. "I'm from Oakland. I ain't with that extra stuff. Nobody can do just what they want to me. And I got called for a foul to start the third quarter for reaching in, but when I reached in, the only reason there was contact was because his elbow came up again."
Lillard continued by describing the double-technical foul incident: "After he blocked my shot, I was walking to my spot, and I felt he went out of his way to get that elbow in there again. I told him, 'Man, that ain't going to fly.' And I wasn't interested in anything else that was said after that."
Russell, though, seemed like he had plenty to say to the Blazers' guard, and Lillard issued a not-so-subtle non-basketball challenge to the former Ohio State guard following Tuesday's game: "We ain't going to do it on the court, so we'll be in the back, and whatever happens, happens. It was nothing. He poked the bear, and you see what happened after the game."
Russell went on to miss his next four shots in the quarter and only managed two points for the remainder of the game. He finished with nine points, six assists and eight rebounds in what quickly turned into a lopsided loss.
Lillard, on the other hand, woke up from his sluggish start and scored six more points following the verbal spat. In the third quarter that changed the game, Lillard scored 11 points, while the Lakers' team scored 12 points. In the process, Portland turned a two-point deficit into a nine-point advantage.
Lillard added another seven points in the fourth quarter but only had to appear for fewer than four minutes on the court because the Blazers had easily sunk the Lakers in the fourth quarter. Portland led by as many as 23 points in that fourth quarter, and Russell's bravado had seemingly been the catalyst for Lillard's second-half explosion and Portland's eventual 108-87 victory.
Lillard confirmed, "I took it as a challenge. I was struggling shooting the ball, and I was getting good looks. Maybe he felt that was because of him or whatever, but it's levels, and I got a little more aggressive and our team got a little more aggressive, and we pulled off."
Russell didn't record a single assist in the second half, and the Lakers only scored 30 points over the final 24 minutes. Meanwhile, the Blazers scored 53 points following the intermission and Lillard finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the victory. Blazers guard C.J. McCollom finished with 25 points to lead all scorers.
Luol Deng finished as the Lakers' top scorer and the only starter to score in double figures with 14 points on the night, but Deng scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half. Truly, Tuesday night offered a game of two halves, with the Lakers missing shots and failing to move the ball to compound the problem of Lillard coming to life.
After the game, Lakers coach Luke Walton was left confused and stuttering, "I'm still trying to figure out what happened in the second half, honestly. I need to get home and watch the tape."
Whether or not it shows clearly on the tape, Russell seemingly poked an All-Star caliber player and woke up a sleeping giant, which is never a good idea.
When asked about whether the double technical may have ignited Lillard, Walton didn't need to review the tape and offered, "(Lillard)'s one of the best players in our league. I think he got angry and he started playing better. That's what happens with All-Stars."