After A Chippy Game 2, Blazers Look To Better Harness Their Emotions In Game 3

by Casey Holdahl
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After a relatively calm Game 1 between the Trail Blazers and Nuggets at Ball Arena -- a game the Trail Blazers would win 123-109 to steal home-court advantage -- the niceties were dispensed of early on in Game 2 -- which the Nuggets won 128-109. While it’s not uncommon for playoff games to increase in intensity as the series progresses -- as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt -- the Trail Blazers and Nuggets seemed to go from at least begrudging respect in Game 1 to outright distain in Game 2.

“We saw what they were saying about the physicality and bringing the playoff mentality to us because they didn't have that in Game 1,” said Trail Blazers guard Norman Powell after Game 2. “I think that's what they had to do to feel themselves and get themselves going; trying to get into our heads a little bit, bumping us during timeouts, walking back to the bench, chirping. That's what they have to do to get themselves going, to get their team active. Their bench was talking all night.”

While it’s tough to say the increase in intensity was the reason the Nuggets took Game 2, it certainly didn’t hurt their cause. It’s also difficult to quantify how much a combined 52 personal fouls, 58 free throws, four technical fouls and two flagrant fouls impacted the outcome, though it seemed as though the Nuggets, playing in front of their home crowd in a game that could be all but described as a “must win,” managed the emotions of the game a bit better.

“I think the higher stakes of the playoffs and we beat them in the first game on their home floor,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard of the change in Denver’s affect between Game 1 and Game 2. “Michael Malone is a tough coach, I’m sure he challenged them and they talked about how they need to be more physical and more aggressive and have some fight and they played like that was the message. I don’t think it’s really nothing that deep other than they trying to win.”

With Games 3 and 4 being held at the Moda Center and with series now tied 1-1, the Trail Blazers are likely to come out with the same edge that the Nuggets seemed to have in Game 2. But while that enthusiasm and intensity can be very useful, it can also go the other way if not utilized properly.

“I’m a big boxing fan so like, you get in the ring, you got all this animosity and anger and frustration and aggression, sometimes that can get you hurt,” said Lillard. “I think as a team -- and I mentioned it to our team -- we’ve just got to be careful. When you overly showing fight and overly showing aggression and being extra, to me, that’s a sign of being a little nervous and a little bit uncomfortable, you not at ease. And when you are, you react less to things like that.

“You don’t shy away from it -- if it comes to your doorstep, you step to it like a man, like we should -- but you just have a better control about you when those situations come. So we’ve just got to be careful with that and not be too emotional, get too caught up in those things. That’s usually who wins in the long run, so I think that has to be our mentality.”

What’s more, Game 3 will be the first time the Trail Blazers will play in front of a large crowd this season at Moda Center. After playing almost the entirely of their home schedule without fans, the team got approval to increase capacity to roughly 1,900 in the last week of the regular season. And now, due to increased vaccination rates and general improvement in limiting the spread of COVID-19, the state will allow a capacity of roughly 8,000 for Games 3 and 4. That is undeniable a great development, both for the team and society at large.

But playing in front of a significant crowed at the Moda Center for the first time in well over a year will require a certain level of maturity from the Trail Blazers, at least if they’re to defend their home court better than the Nuggets defended theirs.

“We feed off our crowd, we’ve got a great crowd and we’ve got to use that energy and make it have a positive impact on the game, not being overly emotional,” said Lillard. “That can hurt you. We can’t come out here and make our first couple shots, they call a timeout and we going crazy. It’s just got to be like, play the game, be excited, care but don’t get too emotional, don’t get too high. If we control that, we’ll be fine.”

With heightened stakes, every playoff games takes on a significance that simply can’t be recreated in the regular season, which is why past experience playing in the “second season” can’t be discounted. And while they haven’t advanced as deeply as they would have liked to, the Trail Blazers do have quite a bit of postseason experience on their roster thanks to being the only team in the NBA to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons.

So they know what they need to do, both physically and emotionally, in order to have success, and that starts with handling both of those elements of the game better than they did Monday night in Denver.

“We’ve got to be aggressive and assertive just like anybody else would when it turns into that type of series, but we’ve got to be under control, we’ve got to keep our composure and make sure that we manage that,” said Lillard. “But it’s a playoff series and that’s what it is, both teams want to advance, both teams want to win games and they gonna do everything in their power to try to make that happen.”

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