Nikola Jokic quickly embodied the Denver Nuggets mindset in Game 2.
The Nuggets Star Center was sprawled out on the pitch early in the first quarter, battling for a loose ball wearing the Jusuf Nurkic blazer. Jokic won possession and the sequence eventually resulted in a 3-point shot by security guard Facundo Campazzo.
Denver manager Michael Malone wanted his team to play a more aggressive, scratchy, and physical style of play against Portland on Monday night. The Nuggets came out peppy and maintained their aggressive style throughout the game in their 128-109 win over the Blazers at the Ball Center in Denver.
“It was chippy and that’s how it should be,” said Denver coach Michael Malone after the game. “We’re both fighting for something.”
The nuggets made up the best-of-seven series 1: 1. The series moves to Portland with Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday at the Moda Center.
The nuggets and blazers got caught in a series of minor scratches and trash-talking back and forth movements during the game. Faced with a 2-0 deficit in the series, the Nuggets had no choice but to hold their own.
“I’m not backing down,” said forward Aaron Gordon after the game. “I don’t know what you did or what you are trying to do on your side.”
Campazzo and fellow guard Austin Rivers made sure the Nuggets weren’t satisfied with jumping shots in the first quarter of Game 2. The two each made a concerted effort to drive to the basket, and Jokic spent more time in the painting area – eight of which His baskets got in the paint – finishing the game with 38 points after firing a total of 15 shots out of 20.
The nuggets made 13 out of 22 shots (59.2 percent), taking a lead of 31-25 after the opening quarter. The nuggets, which spent more time attacking the basket and less time shooting out of the perimeter, shot overall 52.9 percent in the game.
The aggressiveness and physicality of the nuggets extended into their defense.
“We dictated how physically the game should be played. We let the referees know we played like this tonight. That made it easier for us to physically play the game, ”said Denver security guard Monte Morris after the game. “We just knew our sense of urgency had to be better.”
One key to Denver’s win was slowing down blazer guard Damian Lillard, who traumatized the nuggets by taking 6 out of 8 3-point shots and scoring 22 points in the second quarter and 32 points in the first half for the blazers to keep within striking distance.
Malone hired Gordon to defend Lillard to start the third quarter and Gordon – along with Campazzo and Rivers – kept Lillard on 10 points and only made a 3-pointer while making a total of 2 of 9 strokes in the second half.
“He at least took (Lillard) a hard shot or made a hard shot,” said Jokic after the game. “I think he did a really good job.”
Lillard and CJ McCollum together scored 63 points, but Nuggets didn’t let go of anyone. They kept bankers in the game to a total of 21 points, which resulted in a 38-21 advantage in the bank standings.
– Geoffrey C. Arnold | @geoffreyCarnold