Patty Mills played for the Portland Trail Blazers for two seasons, so it's possible he's been to Oaks Park. But even if he had never visited that old time roller rink, he still managed to be put on skates in Portland, courtesy of Damian Lillard, during Thursday night's 98-90 victory against the Spurs on TNT.
Not that Patty has anything to be ashamed of. Through 21 games, Lillard has shown he's more than capable of blowing by his defender on the way to the rim or pulling up for the shot if given space, making defenders pick their poison when trying to check the rookie point guard on the perimeter.
"I think, the last five games, I've been really attacking the rim," said Lillard. "So when guys see me getting geared up to explode and try to get to the rim, I think they start to back up. And when they see me kind of stop, they don't know what's coming. That puts them not their heels."
That was the case Thursday night. After Lillard shot 2 for 14 against the Raptors and 5 for 13 against the Kings, with many of those misses in both games coming at the rim in futile attempts to draw fouls, the Spurs sagged off, opting to defend the drive rather than the pullup, which, considering Lillard's tendencies in the last two games specifically, was not a bad approach to take.
"It seemed like they kind of stayed back because they had seen, for the last couple games, I'd been driving really hard," said Lillard. "I was just playing with them, get them off balance and raising up and shooting."
And on at least two of those shots, Lillard had a bird's eye view of Mills falling to the deck as he tried to close out on the shot, powerless against his body's own mass and momentum.
It takes a rare combination of skills to get a defender so thoroughly off-balance that he falls helplessly to the floor. You have to be both quick and strong enough to get to the rim, a good enough shooter to be a legitimate threat to pull up and possess the ball-handling skills to change directions at the moment you sense the defender hesitate in his decision-making. Those skills are often times honed in the gym, but Lillard credits his ability to break the proverbial ankle to that staple of playgrounds everywhere: the game of H-O-R-S-E.
"I'm comfortable taking that (pull up) shot, all the way from when I was a kid and I played H-O-R-S-E with my brother," said Lillard. "We would do stuff like that. A lot of stuff I do that people ask me about is natural because of stuff I did playing H-O-R-S-E with my brother.
"My brother would be like 'Between the legs, behind the back, step-back from here' and it would be way out there in the middle of the street in a court that's on the sidewalk. And I would do the same thing. We would do stuff like that when we was younger. Hangtime stuff, like jump in the air, count to two, then still lay it up. Stuff like that, that's why I'm comfortable making those kind of shots."
With as effortless as Lillard looked during his career-high 29-point, 7-rebound, 6-assist performance Thursday night, one might have guessed he was playing on the blacktop with his brother in Oakland rather than at the Rose Garden in front of a national television audience. But instead of friends and family watching from an old set of bleachers, it was Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Craig Sager raving from courtside about the rookie from Weber State's ability to make the game look like something from the playground.
"I kind of play with the ball to see if they're going to close the space on me and not let me shoot it or if they're going to back off," said Lillard. "They backed off me a couple times and I raised up and shot it."
And after it was all said and done, Lillard, along with help from the rest of the Trail Blazers, finished the Spurs off with an "E" or rather, an "L".