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Beef Tracker: Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook

All of the grimaces, terse words, and rock-a-bye babies of the head-to-head matchup that has defined the NBA playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers - Game One Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook knows Damian Lillard isn’t scared of him. Because, first of all, Westbrook is flesh and blood:

Second, Lillard said so. In January, after an intense (and foreshadowy!) game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Lillard told the media he wasn’t intimidated. “Ain’t no fear. I’m going to come at you the same way you come at me.” At the time, we didn’t know what that meant. Now we do.

Through four games, Lillard vs. Westbrook (and by extension, Portland vs. Oklahoma City) is the best first-round matchup in the playoffs. On Sunday, the Blazers pushed past the Thunder again, 111-98, to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

Westbrook’s going 5-for-21 from the field without even hesitating on a single shot is, in my opinion, prestige television. But in case you missed any Lillard vs. Westbrook on Sunday in lieu of something more Northern and wintery—again, show me something colder than 5-for-21—here are the highlights from the NBA postseason’s go-to beef:

The Tango

When: Second quarter of Game 2

What: Westbrook is unable to penetrate and retreats to corner, where Lillard’s tight defense forces him to slip. Then, using tactics most likely picked up from the world-renowned “I’M NOT TOUCHING YOU” game, Lillard pokes and pesters Westbrook until he falls down.

Who came out on top: Lillard

The Hustler and the Hustled

When: Third quarter of Game 2

Why: Westbrook had one of those days when everything went wrong—forgot to set the alarm, coffee spilled, locked out, forgot Sarah’s birthday, accidentally hit “reply all”—compacted into a quick 10 seconds. First, Lillard nearly snags the steal (this was technically logged as a block). Then, Westbrook retreats to the arc only to brick a 3, prompting Lillard to flex, clap, and nail a shot on the other end from 31 feet out.

Who came out on top: Lillard

The Proxy

When: Third quarter of Game 2

What: Note how the man guarding Lillard is 2 inches shorter and 20 degrees dad-bodi-er. It’s not Westbrook at all! It’s his backup’s backup, Raymond Felton. Yet when Lillard drains the 3 in Felton’s face, he mean mugs in the Thunder’s direction. A humiliation proxy!

Who came out on top: Lillard

The Chasedown

When: Third quarter of Game 3

What: Westbrook’s timing here is so perfect that he could be one of those DJs whose entire schtick is dropping the beat. (Except if he really was good at it, he’d have to travel and go on press tours, and, I mean, you know how he is with … questions.) Westbrook catches Lillard at the absolute lowest his arm would’ve gone before going up with the shot. The closer the ball is to the ground, the more degrading the block.

Who came out on top: Westbrook

The Subtitles

When: Fourth quarter of Game 3

What: Lillard starts off this possession jogging backward and talking shit, which is pretty high-risk and low-reward considering how easy it would be to trip while saying the words “YOU AIN’T [redacted].” Westbrook drives right into Lillard and almost turns the ball over mid-pass. Again, high-risk, low-reward. But the ball works its way back to Westbrook on the perimeter, and he sinks it. Words ensue!

Who came out on top: Westbrook

The Infant

When: Third quarter of Game 3

What: After scoring over Lillard and drawing the foul, Westbrook jumps away, points, and begins rocking the baby. The maneuver will later inspire teammate Dennis Schröder to do the same; in a moment of innovation, Schröder uses an actual towel wrapped up to look like a baby (I hope) (please don’t let there actually be a baby in there) (except that’d be a great story to tell when you were older).

Westbrook has rocked the baby against Portland in the past. Once, Evan Turner tried to do it back at Russ, and Westbrook told him to “rock [it] right back to Portland.”

Who came out on top: Westbrook and the baby Schröder borrowed

The Stare Down

When: First quarter of Game 4

What: Westbrook splashes a midrange jumper right in Lillard’s face, then looks at the Blazers bench. (I’m not entirely convinced he looked on purpose—there are only so many directions to look. Then again, maybe he wanted to see who was rocking the baby now, Evan Turner.)

Who came out on top: Westbrook

The Logo

When: Third quarter of Game 4

What: Lillard dances above the break for a couple of seconds before spotting Enes Kanter in position to screen, and pulls up from just outside the midcourt logo. (This is also the second of three-straight 3s for Lillard.) He stares at Westbrook, who, to be fair, was at least deterred by his huge former teammate.

Who came out on top: Lillard and his dart eyes

The Rent Control

When: Second quarter of Game 4

Why: Westbrook drains a 3 over Lillard, turns, and appears to say, “This is my fucking house,” which, true as that may be, only means he got beat in his own house.

Who came out on top: Lillard