The Portland Trail Blazers faced one of the toughest challenges of the season Monday night, facing the Denver Nuggets and center favorite Nikola Jokic. As it turns out, the challenge was as tough as excessive pasta, with the Blazers overshadowing Denver 135-110.
Damian Lillard refereed the first half of the match. He finished the night with 31 points in 10-16 rebounds, 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Anfernee Simons took charge in the third period, which saw Portland go from a 6-point deficit to a 13-point lead. Simmons scored 29 in the match, shooting 7-12 from distance. With Jokic spending most of the game on the bench in bad trouble, that’s all the Blazers needed to win their fourth in a row to start the season.
If you missed the event, shame on you! Fortunately, Matthew Legros has you covered with a quarterly summary. With that in mind, here are seven notes from Portland’s victory.
Smart Nuggets… Half
The field goal percentage is one way to tell if a team offense is clicking. But the percentage doesn’t tell us everything. Where the shots come from is also important (and often contributes to the percentage). Denver had no problem hitting the ball where they wanted it in the first half. They enjoyed an off-court pass of drills, posts, and offensive rebounds. In between, they’ve generated enough rocket expulsions for jealousy. Even in their three-point low percentage attempts, they simply soared above the shorter Blazers. The Nuggets are credited with maven know-how, exploiting matches without having to feed a star for seclusion attempts. Denver ended up with 49.5% of the playing field.
The Blazers had a few tricks up their sleeves, too. Rebounds for second chances became a staple of Portland’s attack. Portland can’t necessarily grab the boards, but she can keep them away from the opponent. Fast break points also provide a source for easy combos when the offense dries up. These easy bonus points eliminate over-reliance on the triple indicator.
Portland had 9 attacking plates tonight, which is nearly identical to the 10 that Denver’s much larger team has intercepted. 26 points in the second half highlighted the effort the Blazers put in.
The Blazers have play areas against every opponent they’ve encountered so far. It didn’t work well. Tonight, I did. The split against the Nuggets forced them to shoot at the seams. The slots came from mid-range. It was the only time throughout the night that Denver’s efficiency waned, but the boy did. They only got two jumps against the area and they all pretty much missed out.
The third inning was won on the back of a long shot, but the Portland area made the margin important rather than festive.
“Zone defense” and “good defenders” usually don’t belong in the same sentence, but there’s something vaguely appealing about animated Blazers staying near plays rather than being dragged out of position and having to recover.
Third Quarter Adjustments
The third quarter was a nightmare for the Blazers last year. It’s been an intermittent problem for a while. Untalented rosters tend to excel early on, then wither when the better team starts paying attention.
If early season threes are any indication, the Blazers could be the better team this year. The Blazers fell 61-55 in the inning, but it took them about three minutes to erase that deficit as they shifted in defense, running and a volley of Anfernee Simons hat-trick. By the time the smoke cleared, Portland had advanced 99-86. He swings 19 points in one period.
Stay tuned, but a break could come in handy this year.
Portland started the game superficially from a distance, but when they warmed up after that, they warmed up. The Blazers hit 11 three times in the second inning, knocking the Nuggets out of the water. They are better as an internal team now. When the outside shots fall too? Be careful.
The Blazers had no answer for the Denver Raiders. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter, Jr. were too old for the Portland defenders to manage. Porter Jr. had 18 shots 50% from the field and 4-8 from the arc. Gordon scored 26 points in 12-16 shots.
But the Portland Rangers did their damage. Denver didn’t get far enough from Simmons and couldn’t stay in front of Lillard. Mrs. Simmons fed in the third period as Anferni scored 6 of 7 three-pointers. Yes, in the quarter. At one point, it was more like a video game out there. Portland was on the good side of it. Simmons had 22 points, yes, in the quarter.
If Nikola Jokic is the Joker, the judges are Batman tonight. Jokic spent nearly the entire night in a bad trap, taking his fourth run midway through the third inning. He got fifth with 9:00 left in fourth. Jokic only attempted 4 shots in 27 minutes of play. Regardless of who owns Denver, this is a huge advantage for the opponent.
If you’re counting, the MVP ended up shaping the openings of the evening with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. In theory, coins should have leaked out of a Denver locker room at that point, but looking at the end result, it might have been more like tears.
The Blazers welcome the Miami Heat to the Moda Center Wednesday night, with 7:00 p.m. notice, Pacific.
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