Nuggets

Nuggets Establish Interior Dominance in Game 1

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If the gutsy Game 7 win against the relentless Spurs didn’t convince people that Denver is the real deal this year, maybe the high energy Game 1 win over the Blazers will sway some more minds. If you look at the series odds, Denver is slightly favored due to home court advantage. Ask most experts however, and they’ll tell you that Portland is the favorite.

While Denver is known to be the more well-rounded team, people still put Lillard’s first round dominance over anything the Nuggets had shown in round 1, (even Jokic’s record breaking performances, which I find a little ridiculous). Regardless of which side you may be on, the general consensus is that this series will last six or seven games. So what can we take away from the back and forth and high energy play of game one?

Disruptive Defense

Michael Malone said it himself during an early timeout in Game 1 when he told his team that the first team to lock in on defense will take this game. He was exactly right. Both teams came out shooting above 60% in the first quarter, going back and forth up until halftime. Compared to the low scoring, bad shooting Game 7 against the Spurs, this game was the exact opposite. Both teams were making some miraculous layups and impressive shots that drew Ooh’s and Ahh’s from the crowd.

Looking at the statistics, the Nuggets won the free throw battle by seven makes and the turnover battle by five, which became the difference in the game. Denver must continue to pester Lillard and McCollum off of ball screens and force them to pass. The Nugs did a great job in the second half of hedging these screens and rotating/recovering to their assignments. Along with this, starting lockdown defender Torrey Craig on Damian Lillard helped disrupt Lillard’s rhythm and ability to get going on offense. Ironically, Denver seemed more prepared than Portland after just one off day compared to Portland’s six.

Dominance from the Bigs

Another key difference in Game 1 was the production of the forwards and bigs. Paul Millsap alone outscored both Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu 19 to 4. Rodney Hood’s impressive performance wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of scoring from the two starting forwards for Portland. And while Enes Kanter played great on offense despite his injured shoulder, he couldn’t stop Jokic at all on defense. It seemed like every time Jokic shot within the paint, there was a bucket or foul. Millsap dominated the paint in the first half, and Jokic dominated the second half.

Jusuf Nurkic’s absence in the paint is sorely missed, and Millsap simply can’t be consistently guarded by Harkless or Aminu. Denver needs to continue to abuse these mismatches. While Lillard and McCollum turned it on in the fourth, it was simply too late. Denver got many timely shots from Murray and Beasley which deflated and run the Blazers could have made.

Turnovers and Shot Making

Looking ahead, it seems like a big factor in determining the outcome of these games will be turnovers and shot making. Lillard had six turnovers in game one, which gave Denver energy and easy scoring opportunities. He has to find out how to navigate the hard hedges from Denver and distribute without the turnovers. And as basic and obvious as this may seem, Portland doesn’t stand a chance if Lillard and McCollum both have bad shooting games. On the flip side, Denver NEEDS Jokic and Murray to stay aggressive and not just “TAKE their opportunities, but to MAKE their opportunities” as Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith explained.

Game 2 tips off Wednesday night at 9 PM ET from the Pepsi Center.

About Fred Albino

I am a Business Management major attending Xavier University, expected to graduate in 2021. I'm from Dayton, Ohio, and I have a huge passion for sports and fitness.

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