The Portland Trail Blazers, missing every recognizable rotation member besides Most Improved Player candidate Anfernee Simons, weren’t expect to beat Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Sunday evening. And, well...they didn’t. Fielding a starting lineup in which 6’9 forward Drew Eubanks towered over every teammate, the Blazers had no answer for Jokic, or power forward Aaron Gordon, or Jeff Green, or JaMychal Green, or anyone else over 6’8, for that matter. The Nuggets romped, shooting 50.6% from the field. Portland managed just 36.7%, 16.7% from the arc. That was enough to give Denver a 124-92 victory in a game that was over by halftime.
Keon Johnson got off to a nice start, dunking the ball off of a cut and hitting a short shot when covered pretty tightly. That was the good news. The tougher news: the too-short, too-inexperienced Blazers defense had no prayer of stopping their Nuggets counterparts in individual coverage. Portland defenders tried hard. helping eagerly. Denver was just too good moving the ball and hitting solo shots. The Nuggets also beating Portland down the court hurt. The Blazers couldn’t afford that. Anfernee Simons kept his team afloat, scoring in the lane, adding a three. But Denver’s quick passing game and scoring ability started to wear on Portland. Every Blazers shot came hard. Too many Nuggets shots came easy. Denver led 32-27 after one.
Portland had all kinds of trouble scoring as the second period commenced. Ben McLemore missed threes. A host of players missed inside. Nobody was available for bail-out buckets. The result was a scoring rate of about a point per minute, nowhere near adequate enough to keep up. Meanwhile Denver HAMMERED the Blazers at the rim. Layup followed layup, until Portland had to pull their defense inside, at which point the Nuggets started stroking threes. Denver posted a near-20-point lead before the Blazers woke up, grabbed some offensive rebounds, and finally generated some points off of tough drives and fouls. But as soon as the extra boards and fouls dried up, so did the scoring. Denver’s sloppy play late allowed the Blazers extra points, but it’s hard to overcome hitting just 4 field goals in the first 10 minutes of the frame. Denver led 65-48 at the half.
At this point, Nikola Jokic had only 4 points, but he had 9 rebounds and 8 assists besides.
Portland needed the scoring to pick up in the third period. It didn’t, really, but they did find glimmers of daylight on the break. Rebounds turned into outlets and pushes, which turned into layups and fouls. After a near-starvation diet of points in the second period, it was a refreshing sight.
The Blazers also tightened up the defense a bit in the third, although the Nuggets looked like they were checking out of the game at that point, despite urging and scolding from Head Coach Mike Malone. Missing nearly all their threes didn’t help Denver’s cause.
The Blazers looked like they were poised to make a run on multiple occasions. Energy and tempo were there, but the production just wasn’t. Streaks that seemed like they’d cut the lead to single-digits only took it to 15. A couple Denver buckets later, and the Nuggets led by 20 again.
Good News: The Blazers held Denver to 21 points in the quarter.
Bad News: The Blazers only scored 22 themselves.
Denver led 86-70 headed into the fourth.
Portland’s tough night turned disastrous at the top of the fourth, as Denver hit their first four shots of the period, three of them from three-point land. That was the only facet of Denver’s offense that wasn’t going right up to that point. Scoring three at a time turned this friendly romp into a blowout.
It didn’t get better, either. Denver spent the fourth alternating between threes, layups, and high-fives. And that’s about all you need to know about any comeback attempt. It wasn’t happening tonight, and that’s probably ok.
Stay tuned for extended analysis from the game, coming soon!
The Blazers will face the Phoenix Suns at 7:00, Pacific on Wednesday night.