2021 Playoffs: West First Round | Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers
Carmelo Anthony's shooting buries Nuggets
Veteran forward scored 12 points in a first-quarter outburst to lead Trail Blazers toward victory in Game 1 vs. Denver.
The boos cascaded down to the floor at Ball Arena when Carmelo Anthony checked in for C.J. McCollum with 4:51 left in the opening quarter of Portland’s 123-109 win over Denver in Game 1 of the first round of Western Conference Playoffs.
The No. 3 overall pick of the Nuggets in the 2003 draft, Anthony mentioned Wednesday that “Denver will always hold something special to me.”
The crafty veteran showed it against the Nuggets with a brilliant first-half shooting display that proved key in the Trail Blazers seizing a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series set to resume on Monday at Ball Arena. Anthony finished the game with 18 points, shooting 6-for-12 from the field and 4-for-8 from deep as one of six double-figure scorers.
Damian Lillard scored a game-high 34 points to go with 13 assists, but Denver certainly never expected for Anthony to make such an impact off the bench.
Portland trailed by 3 points when Anthony subbed into the game. Three minutes and six seconds later, Anthony was knocking down his second-consecutive 3-pointer to tie the game at 26 points. Anthony’s first long-range bucket off a Lillard assist sparked a 9-0 run that ballooned into an 15-4 spurt to end the opening frame, with the veteran wing contributing 12 points during the run.
Anthony finished the first quarter with a team-high 12 points, shooting 4-for-5 from the field, including 3-of-3 from deep in just five minutes on the floor.
Anthony tacked on another 3-pointer in the second quarter to lead all Blazers in scoring at intermission with 15 points.
The performance served as one of several strong efforts from Portland’s supporting cast, as McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Norman Powell and Anfernee Simons combined to contribute 61 points on top of the 52 combined points churned out by Lillard and Anthony.
It’s worth noting that teams capturing Game 1 of a best-of-seven series on the road go on to win the series 52% of the time.
Combating the 3-pointer
Issues with Denver’s pick-and-roll coverage definitely played a role in what transpired, which is why Nuggets coach Michael Malone kept stressing to his team during the second half to get up on the screen to take away the 3-pointer.
The Blazers drained 19-for-40 from long range with five players — Lillard, Anthony, McCollum, Robert Covington and Anfernee Simons — hitting at least two 3-pointers.
Denver focused late in the second half on executing Malone’s instructions. But when the Nuggets cheated up on the pick-and-roll to take away the long ball, Portland’s ballhandlers — namely Lillard — routinely found open teammates near the basket.
That left the Nuggets indecisive about what to take away, which is partly why Portland still managed to knock down 5-for-10 from deep in a fourth quarter that they matched Denver’s scoring in the paint (8 points).
Nurkic, who was traded from Denver to Portland in 2017, shot 7-for-10 to rack up his 16 points.
Jokic needs more from the supporting cast
Nikola Jokic matched Lillard’s production with 34 points and 16 rebounds, and Michael Porter Jr. contributed 25 points. But Denver’s starting guards Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo struggled to put points on the board. Campazzo hit 3-for-4 from the floor for eight points and dished eight assists in 32 minutes. Perhaps Campazzo needs to put up more shots in Game 2.
More minutes could be in store moving forward for Monte Morris and Markus Howard, as the reserve guards came off the bench for a combined 17 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
With Jamal Murray out due to a torn ACL, Denver will struggle to match up with Portland’s backcourt of McCollum, Lillard and Simons.
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