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Blazers’ Damian Lillard says series vs. Warriors would’ve been different if Jusuf Nurkic played

Jusuf Nurkic, Damian Lillard

The Portland Trail Blazers were just eliminated by the Golden State Warriors for the third time in four seasons. The two-time defending champions swept Portland in the Western Conference Finals, too, despite playing without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins for the series’ duration and Andre Iguodala in Monday’s Game 4. Don’t tell Damian Lillard that his team proved so overmatched that it wouldn’t have had a chance against Golden State at full-strength, though.

Less than 24 hours after the Blazers’ season was ended by the Warriors, Lillard insisted the presence of injured starting center Jusuf Nurkic would have made all the difference in the Western Conference Finals.

“In my mind, this was a shot for us to win it all,” he said, per Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report and ClutchPoints. “I thought we could have beaten the Warriors. If we had Nurk, it would be a completely different situation.”

Lillard’s not wrong.

Nurkic, before suffering a devastating compound fracture to his left leg in late March, was enjoying a breakout season, emerging as one of the most impactful two-way big men in basketball. He’s one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders, a gifted passer from all over the floor, a solid back-to-the-basket scorer, and a wildly underrated rim-protector – all factors that would have loomed large against any team, but especially Golden State considering how Steve Kerr’s team attacked Portland on both ends of the floor.

Of course, the availability of Durant, and to a lesser extent Cousins, would have made a massive difference, too. If Durant stays with the Warriors and Nurkic regains his previous level of play come this time next year, perhaps we’ll get the chance to find out how for sure if Lillard’s bravado is well-founded.