Lillard cheered in his return to Portland after offseason trade to the Bucks
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation by an appreciative Portland crowd when he was introduced for Milwaukee's game against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
Lillard, who spent 11 seasons with the Blazers and still has a home in Portland, played his first game in the city since the offseason trade that sent him to the Bucks.
The sellout crowd at the Moda Center feted Lillard with cheers. He responded with by applauding the fans and held up his hands in a heart shape before his Bucks teammates danced around him.
But the celebration was muted at the end of the night by the Blazers' 119-116 surprise victory over the Bucks.
In a news conference before the game, Lillard said his return was surreal.
“Even though I knew I was coming here as a visitor, once I got to my house and took my son to school this morning, it was almost like you forget that this is road game,” he said to more than three dozen reporters.
Lillard said he spoke that morning to former teammate CJ McCollum, who played nine seasons with the Blazers before he was traded to New Orleans in 2022.
“He called me and he was like, 'Hey man, embrace it. It's going to be emotional. We put our time in and we put our work in. We had moments and it was a lot of years of us giving everything we had, and we were appreciated.' When he came back, he was like, ‘It was that moment, I felt the appreciation for everything that we put into it,’” Lillard said.
An eight-time All-Star, Lillard averaged 32.2 points with the Blazers last season. He became just the seventh player in NBA history to score more than 70 points in a game — that number has since increased to nine — when he finished with 71 against the Houston Rockets last February. He averaged 25.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.7 assists during his time with the Blazers.
But Portland won only four playoff series in Lillard’s tenure, getting to the Western Conference Finals just once. The team went 33-49 last season, the second consecutive year it finished well outside the playoff picture.
With Milwaukee, Lillard came in averaging 25.1 points and 6.8 assists. Last week, Milwaukee fired coach Adrian Griffin after only 43 games and hired veteran Doc Rivers to take over with the goal of another NBA title in mind.
Lillard said it has been great being part of a team that has “tasted winning and wants to get back to that.”
“Playing with Giannis (Antetokounmpo) it's been great. I think playing with another top 75 players, two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, championship Finals MVP, I'm just able to feel what a luxury it is to have a guy as dominant as he is on floor,” Lillard said.
He would not rule out a possible return to the Blazers someday.
A kid in the stands held a sign directed at Lillard that said: “Go get your ring then come back home.”
“I think because of how I feel about Portland, how I feel about the organization here, my time that I spent here, in my mind I've always felt that's how my career would end,” he said. “Right now I'm just in the space of like, this is where I am now. I'm in Milwaukee. I want an opportunity to contend, and our team has an opportunity to contend this years and years to come.”
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba