Game 5 Notes: Adjustments On Defense, Kanter Gets Ramadan Advice From Olajuwon And Good News For Jon Yim

by Casey Holdahl
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After the two-seed Nuggets tied the Western Conference Semifinals series versus the three-seed Trail Blazers 2-2 with a win Sunday afternoon at the Moda Center, the best-of-seven series now becomes a best-of-three, with Game 5 to be played Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on TNT.

Some notes heading into Game 5…

• As is often the case in the playoffs, the team that wins the previous game generally carries over their gameplan into the next while the team that ends up on the losing side looks to make adjustments. Such is the case for the Trail Blazers, who, after losing116-112 in Game 4, have discussed making some modifications going into Game 5. 

“I think there's something things that we could do, a few changes we could make just to put ourselves in a better position to rebound, limit some of their extra opportunities,” said Damian Lillard. “Just make things a little more difficult for them. We know that they're a rhythm team and just try to disrupt that to start the game instead of letting them get comfortable and get in the flow of what they want to do.”

In a series as close as Blazers vs. Nuggets has been — Denver has scored just two more points than Portland during the first four games — one effort play can literally decided the game. Denver’s ability to offensive rebound has likely been the difference in the series thus far, so figuring out a way to limit those opportunities is one of Portland’s most important tasks going into Game 5. 

“Obviously Jokic, Paul Millsap, even the wings, they all crashing the boards,” said Enes Kanter. It's not just the big mens job, it's everybody's job to just turn around and box their man and go get the rebound… The little details really matter, so just go out there, box out and do your job.”

The Blazers will also try to tighten up their defense, specifically on Nuggets All-Star center NIkola Jokic, who has put up triple-double in consecutive games, including a masterful 21-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist effort in Game 4. Portland has doubled Jokic regularly throughout the first four games, with varying degrees of success, so doing a better job of those coverages, along with improving their box outs, are two areas of emphasis Tuesday night in Denver. 

“I think our timing, us kind of messing around with it, could be a lot better,” said Lillard of their defense on Jokic. “He's smart, so he's seeing that we're going when we're going and he's just kind of baiting us into it and finding shooters. So we've got to be much more crafty about when we going on a double team, the angles that we taking, and then be much sharper on the weakside when the ball does come out so they're not getting clean looks. We could be much better at that.”

• On Sunday, Muslims around the world began their celebration of Ramadan, which spans a month and is highlighted by prayer, reflection and fasting. Practicing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in an effort to become closer to god. The meal prior to sunrise is known as Suhoor, while the meal once the sun sets is known as Iftar. 

As a practicing Muslim, Ramadan presents some issues for Trail Blazers starting center Enes Kanter. While fasting can be difficult for anyone, it’s especially tricky for athletes, as forgoing food, water and medication from sunrise to sunset makes preparing for a game, let alone playing, rather difficult. While Kanter has been observing Ramadan, and the fast that goes along with it, since he was young and fasts at various times during the year, this is the first time he’s still been playing basketball during the holy month. So to get some advice, he contacted Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, a devote Muslim who observed the fast of Ramadan during his playing career. 

“I talked to Hakeem -- I texted him, not talk -- I texted him because I met him a few years ago and I know what he did in, I think '94, '95,” said Kanter. “While he was fasting he won the MVP in playoffs. I texted him, was like 'Hey, how did you fast during Ramadan and play at a really high level?' He gave me some tips, he give me what he was eating, when he would wake up, like 4 a.m. in the morning, how much water he was drinking and stuff. When I texted he was just very happy and very proud and we talk a little about basketball and stuff.

“It's very important because, it doesn't matter what your status is, what your position is, I just want to set an example for the young generations, definitely. It's very important for them to follow their religion. Ramadan is like, think about Thanksgiving dinner 30 days in a row. That's how big the meals are. It's awesome to get help from a legend, so I would definitely love to be the new Hakeem of the young generation.”

To prepare for Game 5, Kanter ate a large meal, drank a lot of water and took the medication he’s using to control the pain in his injured left shoulder at around 3:30 Tuesday morning. And with the sun going down in Denver a little after 8 p.m., he’ll be able to drink and, should it be necessary, eat prior to Game 5, which is scheduled to tip off at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time. 

“It's a late game, the city of Denver going to break their fast 8:06 and the game is 8:30,” said Kanter. “While I'm playing in the game I will be able to drink water and eat food. I might just have someone get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me to eat, just eat in timeouts. It's good because it's very important to follow (faith). I grew up in this, I started doing Ramadan probably nine, ten years old and I've been doing it since, so I just didn't want to quit. I talked to Coach yesterday, he was very respectful. It just shows me a lot seeing so much support from my teammates and coaches and all over the league. It's very important.”

• In Game 2, the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff all wore bowties to honor Jon Yim, the team’s video coordinator and player development coach who, along with members of his family, suffered series injuries as a result of a car crash on April 24. Yim has been in the hospital ever since. 

Prior to shootaround for Game 5, Stotts said that, after multiple surgeries, Yim is expected to be discharged from the hospital some time on Tuesday. 

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