Damian Lillard turns All-Star Weekend into Dame Time with game MVP, 3-Point Contest win


INDIANAPOLIS — Damian Lillard went to seven All-Star Games with the Portland Trail Blazers. In two of those All-Star Games, LaMarcus Aldridge joined him for the event, so this wasn’t the first time he shared the weekend with a teammate, but Lillard made it clear that this time with Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to be different.

“At the stage of my career that I’m in now and a player of his level — a two-time MVP, just a megastar, the captain — like that’s a first for me as a teammate and being in this situation, but I think it just makes it more special,” Lillard said on All-Star media day on Saturday. “I think when we get an opportunity like this to step away from our team, we come in an environment like this, and we get to see how everybody else views each other. We come here, and he gets to see how everybody else views me and what I bring to the table.”

Thirty-six hours later, it was pretty clear how the rest of the league viewed Lillard in the NBA landscape.

On Saturday, with Antetokounmpo supporting him courtside, Lillard took on the best shooters in the league and won his second consecutive NBA 3-Point Contest. On Sunday, as they shared the floor as starters on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad, Antetokounmpo watched as Lillard splashed 11 3-pointers, including two from the halfcourt line, on his way to 39 points, three rebounds, six assists and All-Star Game MVP honors in his first All-Star Game start.

As Lillard drained 3-pointers on Sunday, Antetokounmpo found himself watching the reactions of the other All-Stars on the floor and then appreciating that Lillard now plays with him on the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I’m like, ‘Dang, that’s my teammate there,’” Antetokounmpo said with a smile. “I’m happy that he’s on my side, and I’m happy what he’s capable of doing on the court.

“We’ve just got to stay healthy, keep enjoying the game. Keep on getting together, getting closer. Build good habits as a team in the last 26 games that we have, and hopefully, when it matters most, we can gain some edge. He can make tough shots like that, and I can do the rest to try to help us win. It’s nice to have him on our side.”

This year’s All-Star game did not give Antetokounmpo a closer look at what Lillard can do in the clutch as it turned into a 211-186 blowout victory for the Eastern Conference. Nor did it let Antetokounmpo see what Lillard can do against tough defenses as the competition level of the game remained low for the night. But that didn’t take away from the admiration expressed by the Western Conference All-Stars who had played closely against Lillard for over a decade before he joined the Bucks this past summer.

“He’s been doing it for his whole career,” Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry said. “You can stretch your imagination. I think Atlanta two years ago where I think he won (the game) — like maybe two feet (beyond) the three-point line to win the game in that Elam ending thing. It’s always fun to stretch the limits of where he could shoot. He’s been doing it a long time.”

In the second half of Sunday’s game, Lillard really stretched the limits of what people might have been able to imagine by hitting two half-court shots.

And neither shot was a heave.

Lillard pulled up for both half-courters as if they were normal jumpers, something Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant marveled at while on the court.

“Me and Kawhi (Leonard) was in awe of him shooting from the half-court line like it was a free throw,” Durant said after Sunday’s All-Star Game. “That’s strength, power, muscle memory. That’s someone who works extremely hard every day on their craft to be able to do that without flinching. It was just a normal and natural motion.

“Those are supreme athletes, and it’s good we get to celebrate them on weekends like that. Pretty cool he gets to bring the All-Star MVP back to his hometown and back to his family.”

On back-to-back nights, Lillard put on a show for the crowd and while viewers at home might have appreciated the show, the hometown crowd in Indianapolis did not enjoy Lillard narrowly beating out Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton for the Kobe Bryant Trophy for 2024 NBA All-Star Game MVP. They booed Lillard when he won the award, a continuation of the regular season rivalry that has grown between the team’s this season.

 

In winning the 3-Point Contest on Saturday and All-Star Game MVP on Sunday, Lillard joined Michael Jordan in 1988 as the only player to win a contest on Saturday night,  then take home the MVP trophy on Sunday.

“Any time you’re mentioned in the same category as Mike, it’s an honor, and it’s a major accomplishment, even if it’s All-Star Weekend,” Lillard said. “If it was that simple, more people would have done it since 1988. So, that’s a major compliment for me to be mentioned in the same conversation as far as that.

“I did come into the weekend, when I knew I was going to do the 3-point (contest), I was like I’m going to try to win. I’m not going to be casual and cool about it. I’m going to try to win again. And I’m going to come into the All-Star Game, my first start, I know I’m going to be on the floor a lot. I’m a vet in the game at this point. Why not go and try to get an MVP? Since I’ve been here enough. I saw the ball go in, and I started to do that.”

GO DEEPER

Bucks’ Damian Lillard’s relaxed approach earns him second consecutive 3-point contest win

As Lillard mentioned, he knows that the All-Star Game is no longer a high-level competition where the best players in the NBA battle it out toe-to-toe to see who reigns supreme around the league. He knows that players are now more focused on getting out of the weekend healthy than scratching and clawing to prove their own dominance around the league. But that doesn’t change the fact that he found success this weekend and did it alongside Antetokounmpo, his new teammate, in their first All-Star Game together.

“When you go somewhere outside of your team with a teammate, you usually naturally turn to each other more, just a lot of conversation,” Lillard said. “We’re sharing our own experience away from this when we get around other groups. Our coach was the coach, so a lot of our staff was around the whole time.

“I think it was just a positive weekend for us because we just had a lot of interactions. We were able to have conversations about where our team has been lately and what we want to do, how we can help each other better. When you can break away from not only the season and have All-Star break, but also break away from the team and us be able to just be man-to-man and just bond like that, it’s always helpful.”


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(Photo of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo: Chris Schwegler / NBAE via Getty Images)





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