Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. After a week’s worth of waiting, the Portland Trail Blazers showed up prepared against the Denver Nuggets.
Damian Lillard scored 34 points, Anfernee Simons and Carmelo Anthony scored off the bench, and Jusuf Nurkic came alive to lead Portland to a 123-109 victory over Denver to steal home court. With emotions high and fans excited, let’s take a closer look at Game 1.
Playoff Rotation Solidified
During the Blazers’ impressive 10-2 stretch to finish the season, Portland turned to eight players to carry the load. The typical starters were assisted by Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, and Anfernee Simons. The eight-man rotation paid dividends.
Against the Nuggets, this continues. Simons and Anthony started 5-5 from deep and finished with a combined 32 points. Kanter banged down low when Nurkic was out. Meanwhile, the starters came alive as well, leading the team to 47% shooting from three.
The group was heavily out-rebounded by Denver but made up for it by holding the Nuggets to 36% three-point shooting. Over the past 12 games, this group has gelled together and worked things out. Hopefully they can keep up the team play.
Jokic Goes Off (According to Plan)
Without Jamal Murray or Will Barton in the starting lineup for Denver, the Nuggets have been playing short-handed. Facu Campazzo and the recently signed Austin Rivers were the starting backcourt on Monday, and the Blazers knew it.
Nikola Jokic is the presumptive MVP for the year, but he can’t do it all on his own. The reason the Nuggets succeed is because Jokic is a phenomenal facilitator. By holding him to one assist, Portland made him beat the Blazers all by himself.
Jokic still finished the game with 34 points and 16 rebounds, but it was a one-man show. Campazzo and Rivers combined for only 14 points. Terry Stotts made sure that the Blazers never doubled Jokic and made things tough for the other guys. Jokic can score, but if the other guys don’t get involved, it will be an uphill battle.
Damian Lillard Appreciation
Damian Lillard is fun to watch. The Blazers’ star finished with 34 points and 13 assists to take down Denver. He did it in impressive fashion too, nailing some tough threes, like this one to put away the game.
For years, Blazers opponents have blitzed screens in the playoffs and made other players beat Portland. The Pelicans held Lillard to 18 points a game in the 2018 playoffs, namely because the supporting cast couldn’t hit shots. This year, it’s different.
With Robert Covington, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell on the wings, Lillard is getting more room to work. The Denver defense is having to adjust and leave Dame a little more open. And when Dame gets room to work? Well, just watch out.
Next Up: Game 2 in Colorado on Monday night.
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