Fresh off an eight-day All-Star break and beginning a seven-game road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers took down the Brooklyn Nets behind a monster performance from Jusuf Nurkic. In a game where eight of the ten players on the court played for the Blazers at some point in the past two years, the newest Blazers fueled the team to victory.
Nurkic and recently-signed Enes Kanter feasted in the paint despite Brooklyn fielding two strong rim protectors in Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis. The Nurk-and-Turk duo posted a combined 45 points and 21 rebounds on 18-24 shooting. All five Portland starters scored double-digits as well, making up for a rough shooting night from All-Star Damian Lillard.
The game started out slow; both teams were rusty after the extended break. It took until the third quarter for the Blazers to start building a significant lead. The pick-and-roll game between Kanter and Lillard, plus strong offensive rebounding efforts from the new signing, helped build a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter.
Brooklyn’s ex-Blazers didn’t want to let their former team coast to a win, though. Davis, Allen Crabbe and Shabazz Napier led a 15-2 run which tied the game. Although the Nets have played 34 clutch games this season, they didn’t have the experience to keep up with the Blazers, who pulled away for a comfortable 113-99 victory.
Enes Kanter Plays as Advertised
As he has throughout his career, Kanter posted a gaudy stat line in his debut game for Portland. Logging 20 minutes of play, he tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and one steal on 8-9 shooting - five of those rebounds were offensive and led to second-chance points.
Kanter, unlike Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard, plays very similar to Nurkic. He sets strong screens and bullies defenders in the post, frequently utilizing spin moves and tough-to-block hook shots. In Kanter’s first few offensive possessions, Evan Turner found him in the block, where he pushed Davis into the paint and connected on close-in layups. He even dropped Davis with a well-timed spin move in the fourth quarter, maintaining Portland’s dwindling lead.
Because of the similarities between Kanter and Nurkic’s offensive game, Lillard ran pick and rolls effectively with his new teammate. The pair contributed to a 10-2 run in the third quarter, a run which built the lead to double digits for the first time all night.
Defensively, Kanter struggled with the pick and roll as expected. He lacks the agility and positioning to stop the ball handler from shooting and often can’t get back in time to confront the roller. Davis posted a casual 15 points on Kanter.
Ex-Blazers Getting Revenge
The Brooklyn Nets added to their growing list of former Blazers by signing Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis this offseason. Those two, as well as Allen Crabbe, performed well all night long, eventually leading a strong comeback attempt.
Brooklyn looked for Crabbe as he bent around perimeter screens early on. He and Napier showed their chemistry in transition when Napier bounced a pass between his legs for the Crabbe three. He finished with 17 points off the bench; Napier dished out 10 assists.
Davis showed flashes of the player Portland fell in love with. He crashed the offensive glass in physical battles with Kanter, including one where he gathered the board and proceeded to throw down an emphatic slam. He and Napier ran the pick and roll as fluently as they did last year, causing Blazers fans to reminisce.
Double Trouble in the Post
Nurkic quickly got to work against Jarrett Allen in the post. As a result, the Nets began double teaming him...successfully. He struggled to find the open man when doubled and turned the ball over five times on the night.
Brooklyn did the same to Kanter after he backed Davis down on consecutive possessions for easy buckets. Kanter lacks the passing acumen of Nurkic and therefore frequently failed to find the open man. However, he was smart with the ball and generally passed out of the double team to avoid a turnover; Kanter only missed one shot and turned the ball over once.
The Blazers will continue surrounding these two big men with shooters. Few opposing centers can stifle their post-ups, so when the double team inevitably comes, guys like Lillard, McCollum, Layman and Hood will litter the three-point line ready for open looks. That didn’t happen tonight, but Stotts should make the adjustments.
Kanter seems to have forced Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard completely out of the rotation, as predicted. Neither big man played tonight; Kanter and Nurkic manned the post for all 48 minutes.
Evan Turner’s had a rough start to the game - 0-5 shooting in nine minutes - and was absent for the entire second half. Seth Curry saw extended time but failed to capitalize, going scoreless on three shot attempts in 15 minutes of action.
Terry Stotts ten-man rotation in this first, new-look-lineup game included the usual five starters, Kanter, Hood, Layman, and short minutes for Turner and Curry.
The Blazers travel to Philadelphia to face the Sixers on Saturday.