Appreciating each other's finer points


SAN ANTONIO -- As a 16-year-old kid growing up in Oakland, California, Damian Lillard had plenty of NBA point guards right from the Bay Area he could aspire to play like.

Of course there was Gary Payton, the trash-talking, defensive dynamo who backed down to nobody. Not even Michael Jordan. He went to Skyline High before teaming up first with Shawn Kemp to win over fans with their high-flying antics and later with Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade to win his first ring.

Then there was Jason Kidd, the court magician with eyes in the back of his head who could dominate a game without even taking a shot. He went St. Joseph Notre Dame in nearby Alameda, California, before going on to rack up triple-doubles on the regular through a couple of Finals runs with New Jersey.

And there was Brian Shaw, the smooth-shooting big guard who always seemed to have a steadying presence on the court. He went to Bishop O'Dowd before making the triangle offense sing alongside O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

While all three of those local legends influenced Lillard's game, there was another court general coming off a Finals MVP performance for the San Antonio Spurs who also caught his attention. Even though Tony Parker, hailing from France, had a completely different background, Lillard wanted his game to look the same.

"Started watching him in 2007-2008," Lillard said Monday, a day before his Portland Trail Blazers open up the conference semifinals against the guy he used to study on YouTube. "Around that time is when I really started paying serious attention to what he was doing."

These days, everybody is paying attention to what Lillard is doing, too. The second-year guard is coming off a scintillating first-round performance against the Houston Rockets when he averaged 25.5 points, 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and finished off Dwight Howard & Co. with a series-clinching buzzer beater in Game 6.

Manu Ginobili admitted to breaking the speed limit driving home from the airport after the Spurs flew back from Dallas on Friday night to catch a glimpse of Lillard in action.

"I went a little faster than allowed, but just a tiny bit," Ginobili said Monday, a day after the Spurs got past the Mavericks in Game 7 to set up their bout with the Blazers. "I got to see the last shot. It was incredible, really. Quick release, a lot of air. Nothing but net. So, really good. Great shot."

Ginobili is not the only admirer Lillard has on the Spurs' side. Far from it.

"Besides the obvious talents that he has, he's got great composure," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. "He doesn't get up or down. He plays every play and he's a good leader. So, those are great additions to already being very talented as a player."

"He's a special player," said Danny Green. "The way he carries himself on and off the court is very impressive."

But nobody on the Spurs seems to appreciate Lillard as much as Parker, the one whom Lillard has appreciated for so long.

"Obviously he's a great player," Parker said. "He can do everything. He can shoot from the outside. He can penetrate. So we're going to do some stuff to try to contain him. You're not going to stop him."

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