Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. Down 2-1 to the Nuggets heading into Saturday, the Blazers knew that they had to make a statement. As Nuggets coach Michael Malone pointed out, “They knew they couldn’t afford to head to Denver down 3-1.” Portland made sure they didn’t.
The Nuggets never led in a dominant game that never got closer than 18 points in the fourth quarter. With five minutes left to go, Terry Stotts sent in the reserves, ending a beautiful massacre. Portland finally played up to their potential. Let’s take a closer look.
Norman Powell Steps Up
After three games, it was safe to say that starting guard Norman Powell had been disappointing. Powell was only 3-13 from beyond the arc to begin the series. That all changed on Saturday. Powell jumped out to a quick 10 points in the first quarter and never looked back. He finished with 29 points, all while shooting 4-4 from deep and 11-15 from the field overall.
When the trade for Norman Powell was announced on March 25th, many Blazers fans (myself included) wondered if losing Gary Trent Jr. for Powell was worth it. Saturday showed what Powell can bring: elite outside shooting, phenomenal finishing ability, and lockdown defense. When all was said and done, Powell was the MVP of the game and received a chorus of cheers from the 8,050 faithful in Moda Center.
For only the sixth time this season, the Blazers held their opponent to less than 100 points by holding the Nuggets to 95. Good, right? Well, the Blazer D was even better than advertised. dominating the game thanks to Terry Stotts’ defensive changes.
After a tough first three games, Enes Kanter was sidelined and replaced by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Kanter, who had played impressively in the regular season, had been exposed by Nikola Jokic. With the defensive-minded Hollis-Jefferson in, the Portland defense improved, making shots tough for the Nuggets.
The other major change was how to defend the MVP. In Games 2 and 3, the defensive strategy of “let Jokic score but stop his teammates” failed miserably. Instead, Portland sent doubles and traps Jokic’s way, flustering him. The Serbian big man finished the game with a -36 plus-minus, the worst in his career.
The Other Guys
The biggest surprise of the Blazers’ blowout win was not the defense. It was that Damian Lillard only scored 10 points. Lillard, who had been averaging 37.5 a game, fell back to Earth with a 1-10 shooting night. Instead of hunting for more shots, Lillard helped the team in other ways.
Dame finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, but most importantly, he delegated to his teammates. Jusuf Nurkic had a strong showing, finishing with 17 points, while birthday boy Carmelo Anthony had 12 and Powell had his 29.
To win by 20 is impressive. To win by 20 without Dame shooting well bodes very well. The teams who advance in the playoffs are the teams who can survive an off-game by their star player. The Blazers have a strong core built around Lillard, and hopefully, they can keep up their good work.
Next Up: A pivotal Game 5 in Denver, Tuesday at 6.
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