Damian Lillard scored 27 points in a loss to the Clippers Tuesday night, and he shot one free throw. Lillard is averaging 3.2 free throw attempts a game for the season, four fewer a night than the 7.2 a game he shot last season. It’s been part of an overall slump in his offensive game to start the season, and against the Clippers he was 4-of-13 from three to continue that trend.
After the game, a frustrated Lillard hammered the way the game is being called.
“I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable,” Lillard said. ” I don’t want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the s*** that’s getting missed, I mean, come on. I felt like coming in, the rule change wouldn’t affect me, because I don’t do the trick the referees, I don’t do the trick plays, and it’s just unacceptable. Then the explanations and the remarks in return when you tell them is just like [Lillard shrugs]. I don’t even have nothin’ else to say about it.”
Lillard will be paying a fine to the league for that.
This season, the NBA directed referees to stop calling fouls on non-basketball-related moves, such as players leaping unnaturally forward into defenders to draw a foul, or kicking their legs out to draw contact with a defender otherwise in a legal position.
However, some players have a sense that with that, the referees are allowing a new level of physicality from defenders. It’s not just the non-basketball moves that are not drawing a whistle, actual fouls are going uncalled as well. James Harden has been the most vocal critic of the new officiating style, and when he did get a call Monday night it led to sarcastic cheers from him and his teammates.
You can add Lillard to the Harden camp on officials this season.
Lillard’s shooting slump to start the season goes beyond the officiating. He is shooting 25.5% on 3-pointers this season and is struggling in particular with the deep threes that logo Lillard has been known for in the past. Damian Lillard is getting to the rim a little more than last season, but is finishing just 52.8% of his shots in the restricted area, down from 63.1% a season ago. All of it has led to some speculation around the league that the abdominal injury that slowed Lillard in the Olympics may not be fully healed.
Despite that, Portland still has a top-10 offense in the NBA this season, but is off to a 5-6 start because of a bottom-10 defense. There is also a cloud now hanging over the franchise from the investigation of general manager Neil Olshey and the work environment he created in Portland.