Knicks discuss team defense slowing down Damian Lillard: 'You don’t stop guys like that with one man'

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Alex Smith
·2 min read
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Elfrid Payton and Mitchell Robinson guarding Damian Lillard
Elfrid Payton and Mitchell Robinson guarding Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard is undoubtedly one of the top overall scorers in the NBA, both in terms of overall numbers and sheer talent.

On Saturday afternoon, Lillard still ended up with 29 points, but the Knicks held him in check late in the fourth quarter when it mattered the most, leading to a 110-99 New York win at The Garden.

Lillard scored eight points in the final quarter, including a pair of long threes, but just as it looked like “Dame Time” was about to start, the Knicks ramped up their defensive effort on the All-Star guard, denying him any open looks or even much space at all to work with. As a result, he missed his final three shot attempts, and the Blazers left New York with a loss.

“Lillard puts so much pressure on you,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “You have to be active with your hands, but it’s your feet … you can’t lock your feet at any point.”

Much of the credit for slowing Payton down belongs to Elfrid Payton. Known for his defensive intensity, Payton was chasing Lillard for much of the game, doing his best to slow him down.

But Payton said after the game that it was more a team effort than anything else.

“The challenge is he’s somebody who’s a very good scorer, can get it going, can shoot from anywhere on the court, very aggressive,” Payton said. “I think we did a good job. But like I always say, it’s a team thing. You don’t stop guys like that with one man. The team did a good job, we had a good game plan, and we were able to execute.”

RJ Barrett, who had another strong game offensively with 18 points, spotlighted both Payton and Mitchell Robinson for the way they were able to slow Lillard’s roll.

“We were trying to get the ball out of Dame’s hands,” Barrett said. “Mitch and EP did a great job. We all rotated on the back line and we were getting rebounds.”

Coming off a 20-point night against Chicago on Wednesday, Payton was once again no slouch on the offensive end on Saturday, scoring 22 points, which tied Julius Randle for the team lead.

But a big offensive game for Payton is bonus for the Knicks on most nights, as playing defense and orchestrating the offense are the veteran guard’s main tasks.

Payton’s been asked to set the tone defensive for Thibodeau’s group, and he’s happy to rise to the occasion.

“It’s fun,” Payton said. “It’s tough. You know, [Thibodeau is] hard on me, always pushing me, but I accept the challenge, so it’s been good.”

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Golden State
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Portland
+115+3U 234.5