Given the alleged league MVP, the Portland Trail Blazers approached Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets with a bold strategy: let Nikola Jokic score.
“We want him to score and not include his teammates,” said Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic. “If he scores, I think we have a better chance. Since he doesn’t involve all of his teammates, he becomes more dangerous when getting in and out. I think we feel more comfortable when he scores 30 or 40 and tries to lock. ” in all the other guys so as not to have a big game. “
Jokic did just that, losing 34 points on the 14-of-27 shooting. At the same time, he was missing a key element in his game that made him such a dominant offensive player. Jokic ended the game on just one assist, a playoff career low, as visiting Blazers relied on their plan to win Game 1 123-109 on Saturday.
Nurkic made it clear with a laugh that the Blazers really don’t want Jokic to score, but the plan was clear. With the Nuggets outnumbered and scorers Jamal Murray and Will Barton absent, Portland resisted sending doubles to Jokic, playing him straight with a single defender for the entire game.
“When they are at their best, he covers the table and dominates the game as a playmaker. As a goalscorer he has his way,” said Damian Lillard. “You know a man as well as he is, an MVP candidate – the MVP, in my opinion – you know he’ll play well. He’ll do what he does, but you have to try to take something away.”
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, the nuggets shot only 1:10 on Jokic’s passes in Game 1. Michael Porter Jr. added 25 points and Aaron Gordon had 16, but the nuggets’ offense is most efficient when Jokic is playing point center and orchestrating the offense on multiple levels.
“They played me right away,” said Jokic. “They went under pick and rolls. They didn’t help much on my drives or post ups. It was that kind of night.
“You did a good job. You made me work for it on every property. You kicked other people out. I might not have been able to involve other people. Just because of the templates, I’m saying that.”
On the other hand, the nuggets caught and flashed Lillard and tried to squeeze the ball out of his hands. In contrast, Lillard’s teammates shot 13 out of 15 at passes from him, including 6 out of 7 out of 3. Lillard scored 34 points and added 13 assists, which is 54% of Portland’s 123 points. Lillard found his spots to pull up for Dagger 3s like he does, but he was careful to spread the ball and set a positive tone for the ball movement.
Several Blazers had solid goal evenings as a result, including Carmelo Anthony, who heard boos on yet another return to Denver, where he played the first seven seasons of his career.
“It’s cool man. I love her too. I love these guys too. It’s been what, almost 10 years since I’ve been here?” Said Anthony. “Love is there. They love me; they hate me. There is nothing I can do about it. Just go out there and smile, have fun and have fun. Whatever they have to say, let them say it. It’s not my concern.” , Worry. “
“What else can you do?” Anthony added regarding the reception. “I don’t know what it is. I gave everything here for 7½ years. I’ve never said anything bad about Denver, about the fans, the organization, the players. I never complained. I took everything by my chin, even if it was like that. ” wasn’t my fault. “
Anthony hit four 3s in the first half and finished with 18 points in 22 minutes as he secured his first win in Denver as a member of the visiting team.
“I didn’t even know,” said Anthony, “that this was the first win since my trade. Not even something I even thought of. Somebody told me that in the locker room after the game. But I’ll take.” I’ll get my first win as Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs. “
The Blazers hold a 1-0 lead and steal home advantage with the win, but they expect the Nuggets to make numerous adjustments in Game 2 on Monday to rediscover their offensive balance.
“It’s about winning the series,” said Blazer coach Terry Stotts. “It’s not about winning the home court.”