Hello, Blazer fans, Antonio here. After Portland stormed by the Denver Nuggets to win Game 1 123-109, it was expected for Denver to return Monday night with vengeance. Boy, did they ever. Denver started the game on a 21-9 run and only briefly looked back, pushing back Portland en route to a 128-109 run.
For as good as the Blazers looked on Saturday, they looked equally as bad on Monday. Turnovers, bad defense, and poor rebounding were the names of the game, and Denver took advantage. As we expected, we’ve got a tough series on our hands. Let’s take a closer look.
Malone Counters Stotts
During Game 1, Terry Stotts outcoached Michael Malone. Stotts, who has been on the coaching hot seat for much of the year, left Nikola Jokic on an island and defended everyone else well. Jokic went off but no one else did. In Game 2, Jokic went off and so did everyone else.
Not only did the Nuggets shoot much better from deep, but they also cut to the basket and set up other players more. Jokic finished with only five assists, but the Nuggets finished with 29. The Blazers’ defense fell to horrific standards as Denver shot over 65% in the first quarter. And when Damian Lillard started hot, Malone brought in Aaron Gordon to guard him, flustering the Blazers.
After a good start, Terry Stotts seemed too content to roll with what had worked in Game 1 instead of making changes throughout the games. Round one went to Stotts. Round two to Malone. Let’s see if Stotts can adjust for round three.
Super-Saiyan Dame Not Enough
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 42 points and 10 assists and it still wasn’t enough. Dame’s first-half alone was the stuff of legend, as he scored 32 points and eight threes to lead Portland. He even hit one shot from the literal half-court circle.
The problem? Portland still lost. Despite Dame’s heroics, Portland struggled to stop Denver. The Blazers could only cut the lead to 4, and Jokic carved up the Blazer D. Even if Dame would hit a three, a Nugget would score the next possession.
Another problem was Dame’s lack of help. Don’t let the statlines fool you: CJ McCollum was absent for most of the game, as was Norman Powell. The other Blazer guards were forgotten and didn’t look for their shots until it was too late. In the third quarter, with Dame being doubled by the entire state of Colorado, the rest of the Blazers couldn’t take advantage.
Refs Control Game
After some absolutely thrilling playoff basketball in the first half, the third quarter ground to a halt. Taking well over 30 minutes, referees John Goble, Michael Smith, and Ben Taylor decided to take the spotlight off the stars for a bit. Call after call slowed down the game, including this brutal flagrant foul on McCollum.
While Blazers fans everywhere screamed at their TV, phantom calls on Jokic and Milsap had Nuggets fans yelling as well. I’m not one to point fingers at the officials, but when even the TNT announcers are commenting on it, there must have been some tough calls both ways. Jokic and Dame are fun enough to watch without 58 total free throws.
And that first half showed how fun it can be.
Next Up: The series heads to Portland on Thursday as 8,000 fans await the Blazers’ home playoff debut.
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