The little notes that wire services love to pass along (and we love to read) will tell you that Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard "is the first player to average 19 points and six assists through his first 10 games since Isiah Thomas in 1981." The deeper story is that the surprising Portland Trail Blazers are 5-5 in spite of LaMarcus Aldridge's slow start and an incredibly thin bench, with Lillard helping lead the way amongst a starting lineup with an average age of 24 1/2.
Lillard, obviously the youngest, has figured a remarkable amount out about the NBA lifestyle in his month on the job, including the fact that there are NBA bloggers that like to write like Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel when they're bored on a Monday. One thing he hadn't learned, until Sunday night, was how to make a split-second decision that could determine whether or not an opponent considers you a damn punk kid, or a sportsmanship-enthusiast wise beyond his years.
Such was the case in a Portland win over the Bulls on Sunday, when Lillard made a quick decision to go up for a slam in the open court instead of dribbling the clock out in a sure Portland conquest. The Bulls did not like that decision, and told him as much. Watch:
As you can see, Bulls vets Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah were already at half court when Damian threw the ball down, so it wasn't as if they had to venture far to confront the 22-year-old after the faux pas. Nate Robinson, that noted purveyor or professional tact and well-known suppressor of flighty enthusiasm, pulled Lillard aside after the final buzzer.
From the Oregonian, here's Chicago's side of things:
"I just told him he can't do that," Gibson said. "He didn't say anything. He was making a scene out of nothing. He made the layup and me and Joakim just addressed it, like, 'In the future, you have to be smarter. A lot of teams aren't going to let you do that.'"
Lillard, who has played 10 NBA games and is still learning the ins and outs of league etiquette, was contrite after the game.
"When I caught the ball, I didn't know what to do honestly," Lillard said. "I was just like, 'Man, I'm here by myself, I don't know what to do.' I didn't mean no disrespect to them ... next time, I just know to dribble the ball out."
Lillard, who remains a thoughtful presence on Twitter, said as much on the social media outlet after the win:
The immediate reaction to Chicago's reaction was to point to the fact that Joakim Noah is just two weeks removed from pulling his own needless late-game stunt, firing up a missed 3-pointer toward the end of a sure Chicago win over Orlando in order to attempt to give Bulls "fans" a way to cash in on a promotional fast food giveaway that we've long criticized for dividing proper basketball fans, players, opponents, and dudes who got free tickets from their pal Gary that just really want a free cheeseburger.
That said — and I fully understand that as a Bulls fan I may come off as an apologist here — it's not like Chicago's reaction to the reaction was all that much. It's not like the team threw a hissy fit and attempted to start a fight after losing back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Portland. They basically just said, "nah, man. Don't do that."
Lillard's teammates did the same afterwards, the Blazers coach Terry Stotts became the second NBA coach to quote Shakespeare this season by calling the whole affair "much ado about nothing," and Lillard can now go back to what is shaping up to be a fantastic rookie season — averaging 19 points and six assists a game, while shooting respectable marks (44.7 percent overall, 38.7 percent from behind the arc) from the floor.
And the Bulls can go back to figuring out why needless dunks are bad but needless 3-pointers from Joakim Noah to win a free cheeseburger are OK.
Wait. I think we just figured that last one out.