If you like offense, you’re going to love the matchup between the Nuggets and Trail Blazers. Both teams were humming in Game 1 but Nikola Jokic got the better of Damian Lillard.
If you found yourself frustrated with the defensive battle between the 76ers and Raptors earlier this evening, then this game was a real treat. The Nuggets and Trail Blazers combined for 234 points. Both teams had multiple players break 20 points in the game. Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field and they combined to hit 23-of-58 (39.7 percent) on 3-pointers.
Denver opened up a 13-point lead but the Blazers brought it back and neither side ever seemed to gain control. As the second half wound down, the Nuggets were able to pick up a few stops and hit a few extra shots, providing the final margin for a supremely fun game that serves as a prelude to what should be one of the best series in the second-round.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is on one right now. The Nuggets played good defense in this game and they did with a strategy focused on making Lillard into a passer and forcing everyone else to beat them. They played aggressively in the pick-and-roll, bringing their big man out high to try and force the ball out of his hands. And Lillard still went off for 39 points on 12-of-21 from the field. His 3-point shooting wasn’t quite as hot as it was in the previous series, but he attacked Denver’s traps, often splitting the defenders, and drove hard to the rim. He was 8-of-9 on shots in the paint and got himself to the free throw line 13 times. The Blazers may have lost Game 1 but they can feel confident in the fact that Denver doesn’t seem to have an answer for Lillard yet.
Nikola Jokic is not wearing down. Jokic played broke the 40-minute mark for the first time all season in Denver’s Game 7 win over the Spurs and looked exhausted in the final moments of that game. He crossed that threshold again in Game 1 against Portland but was incredibly effective throughout and had no problems making plays down the stretch. Jokic finished with 37 points, 9, rebounds and 6 assists on 11-of-18 from the field, adding 3 steals and 2 blocks. As usual, he was the hub of the Nuggets’ offense, directing traffic and finding space a half-second before anyone else sees it. And despite the heavy load, this probably as well as he, and the Nuggets, have played offensively in the playoffs.
Paul Millsap gives the Nuggets a big advantage. He went to work in the first half, using his size and strength to bull Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless, shooting 6-of-7 on shots in the paint. He finished with 19 points (the second-most he’s scored in the playoffs this year) on 12 shot attempts (his playoff-high this season). The Blazers don’t really have anyone else on the bench to deal with his strength either, unless they’re going to play lineups with two bigs on the floor. Denver will continue to run things through Jokic and Jamal Murray but the Millsap mismatch is nice Plan B for when the opportunity presents itself or when they need to throw another wrinkle at Portland.