Trails Blazers eye chance for road sweep vs. Nuggets


The Denver Nuggets stressed defending the 3-point line leading up to Game 1 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, but the emphasis didn’t matter.

Portland scorched the Nuggets from behind the arc in a 123-109 win on Saturday night, and now the Trail Blazers will have a chance to sweep the first two games on the road when the teams meet for Game 2 on Monday night in Denver.

Portland has a good chance for the win if it keeps shooting well from long range. The Trail Blazers hit 19 of 40 shots from 3-point range and outscored Denver 57-33 from behind the line.

“We just weren’t running guys off of the line. We had it in the game plan that guys are chasers and runoffs, and it was just too easy for them, too comfortable for them,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “We had to make that extra effort to just get them off of the line, make it a little bit more uncomfortable for them, have them put the ball down. And then, just keep flying around, keep making the extra play.”

Portland used its outside shooting to take advantage of an undermanned Denver team that was missing three guards, but the damage could have been even worse, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said.

“To be honest, I think we could’ve shot the ball even better,” Stotts said after the win.

As impressive as the shooting was, the defensive strategy on Nuggets center and the favorite to win the MVP this year, Nikola Jokic, was just as important. Jokic had 34 points, but the flashy passer was held to a playoff career-low one assist on the night.

Portland knows that Denver is more dangerous when Jokic is finding open teammates, so the game plan was to play him straight up and not let his teammates score on backdoor cuts. It worked well.

“It was huge,” said guard Damian Lillard, who had 34 points and 13 assists in the win. “We know when they’re at their best, he’s setting the table, he’s dominating the game as a playmaker and he’s scoring and he’s kind of having his way.”

The Trail Blazers likely will employ the same strategy in Game 2 while the Nuggets will make some adjustments. One of them will be a better focus on guarding the 3-point line, but another factor is getting Michael Porter Jr. on track.

Porter, whose profile and scoring has risen since Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL on April 12, had 25 points but was 1-for-10 from 3-point range in Game 1.

“They just weren’t dropping tonight. It’s one game,” Porter said. “We’re down 1-0. You got to get to four wins, so we’re good. It’s just one game.”

What also would help Denver is getting guard Will Barton back. He has been out since mid-April with a right hamstring strain, and he is close to returning. Barton’s presence would give the Nuggets more experience and a better defensive presence in the backcourt.

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.