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Loss to Trail Blazers reminds Celtics how important Avery Bradley is 01.21.17 at 8:39 pm ET
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Jan 21, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) gets fouled by Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

When coach Brad Stevens broke the news that the Celtics were going to face the Trail Blazers without their best back court defender in Avery Bradley for the second straight game, you knew the C’s were going to have their hands full against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — one of best guard duos in the NBA.  

The Trail Blazers, losers of five of their last seven games, entered TD Garden hungry for a win and earned a 127-123 overtime win against the Celtics behind a combined 63 points from Lillard and McCollum.  

McCollum scored a team-high 35 points on 11-of-21 attempts and Lillard finished with 28 points on 9-of-21 shots. 

The absence of Bradley in the back court is felt against scoring guards. Isaiah Thomas’ shortcomings on defense isn’t new, but what is starting to become a trend in games when Bradley is out is Marcus Smart’s inability to keep up with his defensive assignments and they were magnified against Lillard and McCollum. 

However, Smart’s struggles haven’t only been against offensively gifted guards. 

The Celtics have now dropped two straight games against the Knicks and Trail Blazers, respectively, and in both games, both teams managed to capitalize on their back court’s offensive production. Derrick Rose of the Knicks had a 2011 MVP like performance against Smart on Wednesday. He finished with 30 points on 13-of-24 attempts all from inside the 3-point arc, including 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Rose danced with Smart all over the parquet floor and won the matchup that ultimately made the difference in the game’s outcome.

On Saturday, Smart spent most of his time on McCollum — who put on a shooting clinic by scoring a whopping 26 points — in the first half before switching over to Lillard. 

After Amir Johnson split a pair of free-throws that gave the Celtics a one-point lead (108-107), Smart committed a shooting foul on Lillard while trying to fight through a screen that resulted in Lillard making both attempts and giving the Blazers the lead with 1:16 left in the game. But one of the biggest defensive blunders by Smart came not when left McCollum open for an open shot that would have sealed the game, but when he committed an offensive foul on Lillard while trying to covert a put-back layup. 

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Read More: C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, Marcus Smart,
Isaiah Thomas ‘can’t wait’ to go up against good friend Damian Lillard 03.01.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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WALTHAM — For those who missed out on Steph Curry at the Garden on Dec. 11 there’s a chance to see another NBA star that’s being placed in his same class.

Damian Lillard and the red-hot Trail Blazers come calling Wednesday night at TD Garden. They are moving up the standings in the Western Conference and the man who was one of the most notable snubs in recent All-Star history is leading the way, averaging 25.4 points and seven assists a game. Lillard, in his fourth season out of Weber State, made news in January when he was somehow left off the Western Conference All-Star squad.

“He’s definitely an All-Star. He should’ve been one,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said after practice Tuesday. “But stuff happens. He’s probably been disappointed in a few things, and not just in his NBA career. He wasn’t even recruited by a bigger school. Whatever the circumstances might be, he’s a helluva a player. He knows he’s an All-Star. The league knows they messed up in that. He’s been playing well and been showing people, proving people wrong.

“I met him a few summers ago. We text every now and then. When I got the nod on the All-Star [team], he texted me, ‘Congratulations, you deserve it.’ He’s a Pacific Northwest guy since he’s in Portland now. He’s just a good dude. We know mutual people and we always text every now and then.”

Thomas (University of Washington) and Lillard (Weber State) know each other well from their roots in western college basketball and then in their Western Conference battles when Thomas was in Phoenix.

“It’s fun. I can’t wait,” Thomas said. “It’s what you play for, to play against the best guys in the world, go against the best guards. I’m all about competing. I know he will be ready and I will be, too. He’s an unbelievable shooter, and he can shoot off the dribble. A lot of people can’t shoot off the dribble. He makes tough shots look easy. And he’s just a guy that works. I know Dames. He’s a guy that continues to work. He uses everything as motivation, kind of like myself. He’s definitely similar to Steph Curry in his shooting ability and how effortless he can shoot from so far [out from basket].”

The Blazers beat up the Knicks Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, their third straight win to open a six-game Eastern swing. They have won 10 of 12 and are 33-28 on the season.
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Read More: Boston Celtics, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
NBA Draft’s Potential Celtics: Weber State PG Damian Lillard 06.16.12 at 6:50 am ET
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As part of WEEI.com’s coverage of the 2012 NBA draft, we are profiling all players considered likely candidates to be drafted June 28. The Celtics own three picks: 21, 22 (from the Thunder in the Kendrick Perkins trade) and 51.

DAMIAN LILLARD

Position: Point guard

School: Weber State

Age: 21

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 185 pounds

Achievements: 2012 All-America third team (AP, NABC), 2012 Big Sky Most Valuable Player, 2010 Big Sky Most Valuable Player, 2009 Big Sky Freshman of the Year

Key 2011-12 stats: 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 46.7 FG%, 34.5 minutes

What he brings: Lillard is a phenomenal scorer who attacks the rim consistently and finishes strong He also is a superior shooter from mid-range to deep-3-range and he doesn’t need much room to get off his shot. The 21-year-old likes to push the tempo and creates for his teammates with kickout passes off of his explosive drives. He also is a strong locker room presence.

While his scoring ability is his strength, it is also his crutch. Lillard too often looks for his own shot and isn’t a true point guard because of it. He also has shown a tendency to overshoot when he is in rhythm.

The biggest knock on Lillard is that he didn’t face elite competition playing in the Big Sky. He is considered to be a top-15 pick, but his lack of experience against top-tier teams makes him a risk for any lottery team.

Where the Celtics could get him: The C’s would need to trade up to acquire Lillard, which is unlikely because they are set at point guard with Rajon Rondo.

Notes: Lillard played the first nine games of the 2010-11 season but then suffered a foot injury that forced him out for the rest of the season.

Recent articles:

Tough-minded Lillard leaps from mid-major to potential top-10 pick

Weber State boasts the nation’s top scorer in Lillard

Video: Here are highlights of Lillard’s 2011-12 season.

Read More: 2012 NBA Draft, 2012 NBA Draft's Potential Celtics, Damian Lillard,
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