Good, great, awesome: Nuggets take 1-0 lead over Portland behind Jokic’s big game

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard (11) as forward Zach Collins (33) and forward Mason Plumlee (24) battle for position in the third quarter in game one of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center.
Apr 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard (11) as forward Zach Collins (33) and forward Mason Plumlee (24) battle for position in the third quarter in game one of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are coming off of a 90-86 Game 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs in a hard-fought best-of-seven series that had its fair share of highs and lows, but Denver did not have much time to celebrate. It took just 48 hours before Denver went straight from the series with the Spurs to an awaiting Portland Trail Blazers team that just made quick work of the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.

The Nuggets welcomed in the Trail Blazers for Game 1 on Monday evening in a high scoring back and forth affair. Jokic have another monstrous and dominant game which was supplemented by Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap. Those contributions led Denver to a 121-113 win over Portland to take a 1-0 series lead. With that, I give you the good, great and awesome.

Good – Making Adjustments

One of the known things heading in the series with the Trailblazers is that there would be many changes. Not only would there have to be a change to the way that the Nuggets attacked and the pace offensively but also on the defensive end as well as Portland presents different obstacles than San Antonio did.

The Spurs are a team that likes to slow down the pace and did not have the same type of three-point shooters that Portland has and it was shown in Game 1.

Portland finished the game with 11 3-pointers in the game, an area that the Nuggets will surely want to get better at defending moving forward, but Denver’s defense progressed throughout the night as well.

Portland spreads the offense and dissected the Nuggets early on in constant pick-and-roll action. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum got themselves going early and kept the Trailblazers in it all night. The dynamic duo combined for 55 points in the game and it was due to constantly attacking off of a high-screen that led to easy baskets at the rim.

Denver had a difficult time getting through screens and communicating when they could not which only led to shots in the paint and was an area that Coach Malone said that Denver got better in as the night went on.

“First half they had 12 points to the roller which is too many. We were there a few times but were not physical enough, you have to be there with a presence.” Malone said before speaking on the progress his team’s defense made in the game. “Third quarter I thought our defense was pretty good and fourth quarter you know those guys are going to be in attack mode.”

Lillard and the Trailblazers surely attacked in the fourth quarter but Denver made the proper adjustments to slow them down and overcome their late game push by playing better defense than earlier in the game.

After the game, Murray said that Denver will have to be a bit more disciplined and detailed defensively and once they do that they will be fine come Game 2.

Great – Nuggets punch first

Coming off of a series that went the seven games against the San Antonio Spurs, one of the questions heading into the second round was if fatigue would kick in for Denver and if the Nuggets could adjust to a scorching-hot Portland team that is playing their best basketball of the season.

Denver answered those questions in Game 1 with an eight-point victory and it was in a game that their defense did not even show up.

“I think tonight’s game was really sloppy,” Jokic said after the game. “Us and them had a lot of turnovers and they had a couple of open shots. To me it was kind of a sloppy game.”

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made a joke that San Antonio and Denver set basketball back a few years in Game 7 with how slow the pace was and how low scoring the game was, but that was not on the case in Game 1 against Portland. For all 48 minutes, it was a fast-paced, offensivley-minded game.

Denver made sure to punch first as they came out very aggressive against Portland. The Nuggets went into the halftime intermission up 58-55 and continued to force their will on offense in the second half by overpowering the Portland defenders and attacking mismatches.

Murray got himself going as he recorded 23 points on the night and also handed out eight assists with only one turnover. Millsap stepped up on the offensive end as he overpowered smaller defenders all night coming up with 19 points. Gary Harris had 11 points and one of the most beautiful reverse finishes that you will see. But it all starts up front with the big man.

Jokic has been incredible to start out the playoff games. In the first round the Serbian big man was able to average 23.1 points, 9.1 assists and 12.1 rebounds and also put up two triple-double performances.

Jokic carried that stellar play into the second round of the playoffs with another stat-stuffinheg night. He finished with 37 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, and two block.  made things difficult all night for the Trail Blazers. How does a team slow down Jokic? It is doubtful that anyone knows that answer, but Trail Blazers star Lillard has an idea on how to limit him.

Portland will surely fight back and come into Game 2 with a sense of urgency that was absent in Game 1. Denver will have to continue to counter everything that the Trail Blazers throw at them and adjust to what the defense is giving them. If Denver continues executing and sustaining those pushes that Portland throws at them, Denver will continue giving themselves a chance to win.

Awesome – Finding Offensive rhythms

It was expected that Jokic would have another incredible game considering the matchups.

Former Nuggets big man Jusuf Nurkic is out for the remainder of the season with a leg injury which left the likes of Enes Kanter — with a separated shoulder — Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins to all attempt to slow Jokic down.

Well, Portland’s efforts to slow Jokic did not work. He put up another insane line on the night but what really won the game was the help he received from players that were in a rut that finally got themselves going.

Mason Plumlee, Will Barton and Millsap did not have the type of first rounds that they expected, but they all started out the second round on a positive note.

For Millsap, it was on the offensive end that he struggled a bit with against San Antonio, but he found an opening against Portland and went after it. With an undersized Al-Farouq Aminu, he was able to have his way in the first half and carry the scoring load for Denver early on and that carried into him having a big game offensively. He finished with 19 points on the night. He was his usual self on defense as he made things difficult for his opponent and had plenty of plays that affected the game, but Monday night was his night to be assertive and he did just that.

Plumlee could not find his way against the Spurs as their slow and methodical style gave him fits, but against his former team he was very productive. Plumlee was able to score six points and also grabbed six rebounds but it was his presence on the defensive end that really stood out. He had a game-high five steals and also a highlight block that helped bolster the second unit’s defense.

Barton was also a player that struggled mightily in the first round and even got benched for Torrey Craig which turned out to be one of the best adjustments of the postseason. He has had up-and-down games with the second unit, but on Monday he was able to give productive minutes and attack in spurts. He finished with nine points in only 15 minutes and led the second unit.

When Denver is able to get solid play from their bench coupled with their starters putting up effective games, it makes things that much easier for the Nuggets and that is one of the main reasons that Denver is up 1-0 in the second round and looking for more.

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