DENVER -- The first game between the Trail Blazers and Nuggets, two of the most dynamic offensive teams in the NBA, lived up to its billing Monday night at the Pepsi Center, with both team shooting better than 50 percent from the field and combining for 234 points.
But with both sides dialed in on the offensive end, the game came down to which team made the most mistakes. And as is often the case, that inauspicious honor went to the road team.
Portland turned the ball over 18 times, which Denver converted into 23 points, to come away with a 121-113 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
"There's no question that the turnovers, they hurt us," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "It was a good offensive game, but I thought the turnovers really made a difference."
The Nuggets lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday night in Denver.
The Trail Blazers gave themselves a chance to steal the first game of a best-of-seven series in the first and third quarters, limiting their mistakes while shooting 64 and 50 percent from the field, respectively.
But their second and fourth quarter performances were rife with turnovers, which would be bad news against any team, but is especially detrimental versus a team boasting the kind of efficient offense the Nuggets have played this season. Portland turned the ball over seven times for seven Denver points in the second quarter and six times for eight points in the fourth.
"I know I had six (turnovers) myself," said Damian Lillard. "As much as I have the ball, I'm responsible for valuing possessions. On the road against a team who plays much faster, much better at home, especially when they get out in transition and shoot threes and get the ball moving. Just gave them too many opportunities. Twenty-three points off our turnovers, that's always going to hurt you in any game, especially on the road."
Other than turnovers, the other area of concern for the Trail Blazers in Game 1 was three-point defense. Portland scored more points in the paint (56 to 50), more second-chance points (15 to 13) and held the Nuggets to 12 fastbreak points, all of which would, along with shooting 52 percent from the field, would typically be enough to come away with a victory, even in the playoffs and on the road.
But the Nuggets shot a blistering 12-of-29 from three, which, along with Portland's turnovers, tilted the scales in the home team's favor. The Blazers were able to get away with leaving Oklahoma City's shooters relatively open from three in their previous series, but Monday's game was a stark reminder that a similar approach will not work against the Nuggets.
"With OKC, I don't think they had the kind of shooters that Denver has," said Lillard. "They've got a lot of guys out there who are pretty much knockdown three-point shooters. And then they've got a guy in the middle who's a facilitator. It's much more of a priority to this team to have the ball moving and hoping around, finding the open man, they cutting... There was situations where our communication just wasn't good enough. Some of our coverages that we prepped going into the game, we just didn't do it well enough and it turned into open threes for guys we don't want to give open threes up to."
Portland was led by Damian Lillard, who went 12-of-21 from the field, 4-of-12 from three and 11-of-13 from the line to finish with a game-high 39 points to go with six assists, three rebounds and a steal in 43 minutes.
Enes Kanter, despite playing with an injured left shoulder, went 11-of-14 from the field for 26 points, his most as a Trail Blazer, to go with seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
"Enes was terrific," said Stotts. "Very efficient, finished around the basket playing through the shoulder injury. I couldn't of asked for any more from him. He was terrific."
Kanter noted after the game that, while his shoulder is bothering him greatly, so much so that he received an injection to deal with the pain prior to the game, that he has no intention of missing Game 2, or any other game in the series.
"I cannot play the way I want to play," said Kanter. "Just keep playing through it. With the pain killers, injections, anything I can do to just help my teammates. It doesn't matter, one arm, two arm, I'm just going to go out there and help my teammates win because I signed with this team in February but this team put so much work and effort into the whole season."
Rodney Hood turned in his best offensive performance of the 2019 Playoffs, shooting 50 percent from the field and 3-of-4 from three for 17 points to go with two rebounds and an assist in just under 18 minutes off the bench.
"We’ve been off for a week, and they got a little bit of continuity just playing a couple days ago," said Hood. "The series is kind of fresh. We just found out we were playing them a couple days ago, so as the series go on, we’ll settle in and be better come Wednesday night."
CJ McCollum finished with 16 points to round out Portland's double digit scorers.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 37 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks in 41 minutes. Jamal Murray went 8-of-15 from the field and 3-of-6 from three for 23 points to go with eight assists. Paul Millsap finished with 19 points and Gary Harris added 11.
Next up, both teams will have a day off before Game 2 Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center. Tipoff if scheduled for 6 p.m. on TNT.