New Orleans • Damian Lillard stepped onto the hardwood Sunday, sporting a brand new pair of Adidas.
The night before, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard wore a different colored pair of another model for each of the three contests — Skills, Three-Point and Slam Dunk — in which he competed. None of those, by the way, was the pair he wore to practice that morning or the sneakers he donned for Friday night’s Rising Stars game.
All-Star Game East 163, West 155The combined score of 318 was the most ever for an All-Star Game. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin each scored 38 points — four shy of Wilt Chamberlin’s record.
» The game featured six first-time All-Stars, including ex-Jazz forward Paul Millsap. Representing the Atlanta Hawks, Millsap scored six points and grabbed three rebounds.
That’s life for the former Weber State star these days: changing quickly.
"Two years ago, I was in Ogden, Utah, going to class, wearing the same shoes every day," Lillard said this week, surrounded by reporters during one of his many press events. "Now everybody wants an autograph. People want pictures when I go to dinner. It’s completely changed, but one of my coaches always used to tell me when you work hard, you’re going to get results."
Sunday night, alongside the NBA’s best, Lillard was used sparingly. He played just nine minutes, contributing nine points to the highest-scoring All-Star Game in history, a 163-155 win for the East.
But simply being there meant something.
"Last season, I felt like I was in awe just being here and looking around and seeing the Hall of Famers and all the LeBrons and Chris Pauls and Blake Griffins," said Lillard, who was a participant in the rookie-sophomore game and the Skills Challenge last All-Star Weekend. "Now that I’m in that group … it’s a different feeling."
In his second season in the league, Lillard is putting up 20 points and 6 assists a night for a Portland team currently sitting fifth in the West with a record of 36-17.
And the reigning Rookie of the Year has caught the attention of his peers. When Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fractured his knee earlier this season, he urged fans to take their All-Star votes elsewhere, suggesting Lillard by name.
On Sunday night at the Smoothie King Center, Lillard capped off a historic All-Star Weekend, becoming the only player to ever participate five of the weekend’s events. Lillard’s team won the Rising Stars Challenge and he defended his Skills title Saturday, before falling short in the Three-Point and Slam Dunk contests.
The All-Star Game itself, the weekend’s showcase, was on offensive explosion befitting New Orleans; scores were both big and easy. And it belonged to the game’s reigning kings.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin single-handedly atoned for a lackluster dunk competition. Kevin Durant scored 38 points of his own, something he’s done often during a season in which many believe he could finally snatch the MVP trophy from LeBron James.
The game’s MVP, third-year point guard Kyrie Irving, dropped 31 points and dished 14 assists, fueling an East comeback after his team was down by 18 at one point and snapping a streak of three straight West victories.
Lillard watched from the bench, cheering for a West victory that wasn’t.
"It’s a seniority thing," he said, adding that it was the first time since 10th grade that he wasn’t on the court to start and close a game. "You got guys that are productive at the same level as I am and they’ve been here five times. They’re going to be on the floor. That’s a respect thing."
This weekend, the 23-year-old Lillard showed respect to the veterans he grew up admiring, all while understanding what time does to everyone who plays. "It’s always that way," he said when asked about a changing of basketball’s guard. "You have guys that are stars and they get older and it’s younger guys’ time."
He’s not the new face of the NBA and he knows it.
"I think LeBron, KD, those are the faces of the NBA," Lillard said. "But I think you’re starting to see a lot of young guys making their way."
And, as Lillard knows well, things can change so quickly.
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