Before the start of the playoffs last month, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard pulled Norman Powell aside for a conversation.
Powell knew what Lillard has always wanted to know. The former Toronto Raptors guard had been to the NBA Finals, had hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and had run the entire NBA Playoffs gauntlet alongside Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and the 2019 Raptors.
“He kept bringing it up, that I have a championship, and that I know what it takes,” Powell told The Athletic’s Jason Quick. “And he just started talking about how badly he wants to win and bring one to Portland.”
Lillard’s playoff stats are astronomical. He’s averaging 25.7 points with 6.1 assists and 37.1% shooting from three-point range. On Tuesday, he put up 55 points with an NBA record 12 three-pointers in a 147-140 loss to the Denver Nuggets, moving Portland to the brink of elimination.
For most teams, that’s a scary spot to be in. But Powell has been there before, once in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers and once — for all intents and purposes — down 0-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks. He knows what it takes to bounce back and he told NBA TV prior to Tuesday’s game that he sees similarities between Toronto and Portland, specifically in the teams’ underdog mentality.
“The will to win. I think we had that in my championship season. We’d gone through adversities, the ups and downs, being down 0-2 in a playoff series and being able to fight our way back,” Powell said. “I think this team has gone through the trenches and they’re ready to get over that hump.”
It’s going to be tough for Portland to reach the summit like Toronto did just a few years ago. That Raptors team was predicated on being a defensive juggernaut with Leonard leading the way. Portland, conversely, is a team all about offense. The Trail Blazers finished second-last in the NBA in defensive rating during the regular season and their playoff defense hasn’t been much better. If Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s ‘defense wins in the playoffs’ philosophy remains true, even Powell’s playoff experience won’t help the Trail Blazers this season.