LOS ANGELES -- Damian Lillard was struggling. By the 6:05 mark in Tuesday's tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center, the Portland Trail Blazers' star guard had shot just 3 of 14 from the field, and his team led a young Lakers squad by only one point.
But then Lillard and Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell engaged in a war of words and had to be separated. Each player was assessed a technical foul. And from then on, Lillard scorched the Lakers, scoring 13 points -- including 11 in a row in the third quarter -- while his team stretched its lead, which reached 23 points, on the way to a 108-87 blowout win.
"[Russell] poked the bear and you seen what happened the rest of the game," Lillard, who finished with 20 points on 7-of-21 shooting, told reporters after the game, according to audio posted by the Trail Blazers' team reporter.
Lillard said that confrontation with Russell "absolutely" ignited his strong play in a game-turning third quarter in which the Lakers scored a season-low 12 points on 5-of-23 shooting.
"As far as that situation, since last game, he's been doing little slick elbows," Lillard said of Russell. "And I play the game clean. I'm from Oakland. I ain't with that extra stuff and nobody can just do what they want to me.
"I got called for a foul to start the third quarter for reaching in, but when I reached in the only reason there was contact is because his elbow came up again. After he blocked my shot, I was walking to my spot, and I felt like he went out of his way to get that elbow in there again. And I told him, 'That ain't gonna fly.' And I wasn't interested in anything else that was said after that. We ain't going to do it on the court so we'll be in the back and whatever happens, happens."
Lillard, who also had eight rebounds and six assists, added of Russell, "I don't know what made him feel like that was going to accepted or like I wouldn't take exception to that. I took it as a challenge. I was struggling shooting the ball. And I was getting good looks and maybe he felt like that was because of him, or whatever. [There are] levels, and I got a little more aggressive and our team got a little more aggressive and we pulled it off."
Russell, a second-year player out of Ohio State whom the Lakers chose with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, including missing all seven of his attempts from 3-point range. He also had eight rebounds and six assists.
In Russell's postgame interview, posted online by the Lakers, the guard told reporters of the third quarter, "A little incident happened and then they turned up the pressure. They started making shots, started getting stops and we didn't."
Russell was asked if he saw Lillard respond after their altercation.
"He just shot the ball more," Russell said. "We didn't clean up rebounds. The ball bounced to him, he shot it, made shots. Got to the free throw line. The same thing he was trying to do the whole game."
And of the team's overall play after the confrontation, Russell said, "I think we ran away from everything we did. After the [incident] we just deferred. We didn't throw any punches and go forward and compete more. We turned down a little bit."
Russell was asked if he has noticed that top NBA point guards, such as Lillard and Golden State's Stephen Curry, have an extra gear and can seemingly elevate their game at any moment.
"I don't know, I don't know," he said. "I have it. I don't know about them."
Lakers coach Luke Walton said he was told Russell and Lillard each were assessed technical fouls on that play for something that was said.
"It's basketball," Walton said.
Portland coach Terry Stotts said the confrontation certainly "sparked [Lillard], but I wouldn't say it necessarily changed the game one way or the other. That happens and I think Damian took that challenge."
Overall, Walton was dismayed with his team's performance in the second half.
"I'm still trying to figure out what just happened in the second half," he said. "I need to go home and watch the tape, but I was shocked that that is how we came out." He added, "We stopped moving the ball. We turned into, 'I am going to try to do it myself' [on] offense."
On the defense, Walton said, "We completely stopped talking. It was dead out there."
Walton said he didn't believe Russell should have tried to turn the game into more of a one-on-one battle with Lillard when Lillard started heating up following the confrontation.
"We're not winning games where one guy scores 40," Walton said. "We've had nights like that, too, and we lose. I thought D'Angelo, even though he missed shots tonight, I thought he played good. I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was getting into their guards and fighting over screens. I was very happy with the way D'Angelo played tonight, but, no, we don't ever want it to turn into a 'one-on-one go back at each other' type of game. That's not the way we play."