What we've seen from Portland Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard in the bubble has been otherworldly.
With the odds stacked against his team to qualify for the playoffs, Lillard has stepped up time and time again to keep his team pushing towards a playoff berth. He's had one 60-point game, one 50-point game, two 40-point games and four 30-point games, and that's just over a 12-game span at Disney.
He averaged 37.6 points shooting an absurdly efficient 49.7% from the field and 43.6% from 3-point range on 23 shots per game during the seeding games, earning him Seeding Games MVP by unanimous decision. While his scoring average has taken a slight dip in the playoffs - mostly in-part to missing the majority of Game 2 with a dislocated finger - Lillard is still averaging 28.7 points shooting 41.8% from the field and 38.7% from beyond the arc on 18 shots per game, going for over 30 points in two of Portland's three contests.
But with his team trailing 2-1 in the series, dropping consecutive games to the Los Angeles Lakers after taking Game 1, it warrants the question: "is Dame Time running out?"
There is no player that has exerted more energy than Lillard since the NBA's restart in late July. His 12 games played in the bubble are tied for the most in the league, and that's before Game 4 set to tip-off Monday where he'll take the lead at 13 games played. His 494 minutes played in the bubble is more than any other player, and that's after missing most of Game 2.
Take a look at how Lillard's minutes played stacks up against other players still competing in the bubble.
|Player||Team||Games Played||Minutes Played|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||DAL||12||423|
*This list excludes Lillard's teammates.
And something that the simple stat "minutes played" doesn't tell you is that Lillard has basically been playing in 12-straight playoff games while every other player on that list is playing for teams that had clinched a playoff spot prior to entering the bubble. The Trail Blazers needed just about every seeding game to even get to the postseason, while the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Lakers all had throwaway games that didn't impact whether or not their season would continue beyond the initial eight games.
Other top-tier players on the list like Doncic, Brown, Davis and Harden all received one game's rest during the seeding games. Guys like Hardaway and Tucker don't have anywhere near the usage rate that Lillard does.
Then when you take into consideration the double teams, traps, fullcourt pressure, off-ball denials that Lillard has been dealing with in every contest, it's essentially unmatched what he's had to go through to get to this point where his team is trailing 2-1.
After the Blazers' Game 3 loss, Lillard was asked if fatigue is starting to become a factor.
"I mean, possibly," Lillard told the media in his postgame press conference. "I wouldn't say it's the only reason (for the Game 3 loss). They played good defence, you have to give them some credit. Maybe we were a little bit tired but whatever, we just didn't make shots. Sometimes you're tired and you make shots. Sometimes you don't."
Lillard played through his dislocated left index finger in Game 3, but it didn't appear to affect him when he got out to a quick 14 points shooting 4-for-7 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3 in the first quarter. It did look like Los Angeles began to wear down the superstar, though, as Lillard shot 2-for-9 from the field and 1-for-5 from long range in the second half.
While it's sure to be a combination of both the finger injury and the wear-and-tear of a gruelling stretch in the bubble, Portland is going to need every ounce of energy their All-Star guard has in his body if they're going to pull off the first-round upset.
This isn't the first time Lillard has been in this position in the playoffs.
Qualifying for the postseason in every season aside from his rookie campaign - a stretch of seven consecutive appearances - Lillard has trailed 2-1 in a series twice. Both of those scenarios occurred in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
In the first round against the 'Lob City' LA Clippers, the Blazers went down 2-1 in the series but rattled off three-straight victories to advance to the second round. Unluckily for Portland, awaiting them in the Western Conference Semifinals was the 73-9 Golden State Warriors and unanimous MVP Stephen Curry.
Trailing 2-1 yet again, the Blazers ran out of steam, completely outmatched by arguably the best team in NBA history. They'd go on to lose three consecutive games in which fatigue certainly set in for Lillard who still averaged 32.0 points playing 43 minutes per game but shot an uncharacteristic 29.6% from the field and 26.9% from 3-point land over the three-game stretch.
After Game 3 against the Lakers, he was also asked about how he feels emotionally with his team down 2-1, to which he responded, "I'm fine. It's a 2-1 series. I've been in worse situations in a series. We gotta get the next game. If we get the next one, it's an even series."
While a player like Lillard feeds off of doubt, it will be interesting to see what he has left in the tank and keep this historic run going.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.