OAKLAND • Damian Lillard hopes to close down his hometown arena on his own terms when the Portland Trail Blazers take on the two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, with Game 1 tipping off last night (this morning, Singapore time).
The four-time All-Star, who is rapidly ascending the list of most accomplished Oakland High graduates, including the late actor David Carradine, nailed a game-winning three-pointer on what many believed would be his final shot at the Oracle Arena in a one-point overtime win in December.
It was part of a 113-point, four-game season series the Oakland native had against the Warriors, the most points scored against Golden State in the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season.
But now, perhaps fittingly, he must return in a post-season series that will be the last for the Warriors should they fail to advance to their fifth straight NBA Finals, with Golden State moving into the Chase Centre in San Francisco next season.
The Warriors are certainly aware that as "a guy who's been doubted forever", Lillard has a point to prove against them.
Asked of the guard, Golden State forward Draymond Green said: "He can score the ball with the best of them. Dame has a chip on his shoulder since the day he walked into this league.
"He plays like a guy from Oakland, with a chip on his shoulder."
Lillard and C.J. McCollum, hero of last Sunday's Game 7 win at the Denver Nuggets that propelled the Blazers into their first Western Finals since 2000, will go head-to-head with fellow guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the marquee match-up of the series.
Unless there is a clear winner in the duel of two of the NBA's premier back courts, the series could turn into a battle of attrition in the front court, where five key players have different degrees of injuries.
Warriors All-Star forward Kevin Durant will miss the opener with a calf strain, along with DeMarcus Cousins, who could return from a torn quad at some point.
The teams have met twice in the play-offs in the last three seasons, with Golden State prevailing 4-1 in the semi-finals in 2016 before a 4-0 first-round sweep in 2017.