The Portland Trail Blazers played tremendously in Game Five, especially from a defensive standpoint. Although Damian Lillard only had 10 points on a rough 1-10 shooting, the supporting cast and defensive output was the help he has always needed. The Denver Nuggets averaged 119 points per game through Games 1-3, but were held to only 95 points in Game Four. Here’s what to do more of in Game Five.
Forcing Jokic into More Pick-and-Rolls
Pick-and-roll defense is very tiring unless you’re having to guard opposing players that cannot shoot the ball particularly well. With a juggernaut backcourt like that of Lillard and CJ McCollum, forcing Jokic into more pick-and-rolls will force him to utilize more energy on the defensive end. He will not only have to hedge hard to cut off Lillard and McCollum, but also sprint back to cut off any pass to the rollman (Jusuf Nurkic) on his way to the hoop. Forcing Jokic in to heavy use of energy will slow him down, offensively.
Running More Plays with Jusuf Nurkic
We all know the Blazers can shoot the lights out from the perimeter, but when Nurkic is a non-factor, the paint is a simple task for Denver to protect. The Blazers are a much more potent team when Nurkic is more aggressive and heavily involved in the offense, especially pick-and-rolls. When Nurkic is involved in pick-and-rolls, centers are brought out of the paint to hedge/defend the ball-handlers involved in it. Running more plays to involve Nurkic as a dual-threat of a scorer and passer will also force Jokic to defend him, making him more fatigued. In Game Four, Portland forced Jokic into pick-and-rolls in this game at times, but not nearly as much as it should have. Having an effective inside-out game will be crucial to steal another road game.
Letting Norman Powell Do His Thing
Portland traded acquired Norman Powell for two reasons: he’s a proven defender and can get buckets in a variety of ways. Having another creator on the wing was crucial to assist Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in their repeated efforts. Powell was given more of an opportunity in Game Four to use his athleticism and aggressively attack the rim to pose as a threat inside and out. The Nuggets won’t be able to sag off their man to help on drives by Lillard and McCollum because Powell can keep the defense honest. This lead him to tying his career-high of points in the playoffs at 29 and shooting an efficient 11-15 overall and 4-4 from deep.
Game Four was a rare game where Damian Lillard struggled mightily to shoot the ball, but still beat a great team comfortably. Through Games 1-3, Lillard has averaged an insane 37.7 points per game shooting 45% overall and 43.2% from three. With his continued dominance, more aggressiveness from Nurkic and Powell, and the rest of the roles players clicking, the Blazers should wrap this up in 6. Game 5 will be on at 6:00pm Pacific Time on NBA TV.