Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Jokić, Chandler Lead Nuggets to Big Road at Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. – Nikola Jokić sized-up the situation and the defender. It was Jusuf Nurkić, guarding the Nuggets center out at the 3-point line. Jokić put his head down, drove the ball right by the Blazers center, hitting Nurkic with a chicken-wing back-elbow on the way in for a dunk.
Yep. Friday night was Statement Night at the Moda Center. And plenty of Nuggets had statements to make.
The first? A team statement. The Nuggets controlled the pace and dominated from start to finish in a 102-85 victory, winning for the first time in Portland since Feb. 27, 2013. It was fueled by defense and snapped a nine-game losing streak in Rip City.
“It was a complete team win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “On both ends of the floor.”
There were several individuals that made it happen. And almost all of them had something to prove.
The loudest statement was made by Jokić. Games in Portland had not been kind to him since Nurkic was traded away. Friday was different. The dunk, which came in the second quarter, was the clearest sign that nothing but dealing out the punishment was on the agenda. Jokić rolled his eyes at the notion he brought a little extra to the latest matchup against Nurkic, but Malone was eager to see how things would go down.
“I was really curious to see what would happen,” Malone said. “Because in the past, Nikola had not been as aggressive as he needed to be. Tonight, I think he got over a mental block. He went out there and attacked and was so effective all over the floor – scoring, rebounding, and playmaking. That’s obviously what makes Nikola the great player that he is.”
Jokić had a team-high 27 points on 12-of-21 shooting with nine rebounds and six assists. He scored every which way, from the dunk to layups to a step-back one foot 3-point jump shot. Jokić had it all rolling, and Portland had no answers for him.
“I think I had open shots in the beginning, and then I just kept going,” Jokić said. “When I am aggressive, I think that is going to help my teammates.”
The next statement was made by Mason Plumlee. He put his last outing in Portland to rest with a solid performance on Friday night that started by being physical on the defensive end.
“He is the anchor of our defense,” Malone said.
Plumlee had five blocked shots and a steal to accompany eight points and five rebounds. He spearheaded a Nuggets defensive effort that held Portland to 42 percent shooting and out-rebounded the Blazers 49-34.
“We’ve got to recognize that all of these games are very important,” Plumlee said. “(Oklahoma City) is important. Games with Utah are important. Every game is important, but some even more, and that’s what this was tonight.”
Wilson Chandler’s statement was on offense. While he has been a big contributor in other categories, he hadn’t scored 20 points in a game. But he put his most aggressive offensive performance of the season on the court against Portland. When the dust settled, he’d scored a season-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Chandler scored eight of those points in the third quarter.
“We posted Wilson up against Jake Layman and had great success,” Malone said. “Got Wilson going early, and he continued that for 48 minutes. I thought Wilson was fantastic.”
Sprinkle in 17 points from Gary Harris, 64 points in the paint, and a game in which the Nuggets took much better care of the basketball – just 14 turnovers for 10 points – and it all equaled a significant road victory in what was the first game of a back-to-back.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, but today we were able to build a big lead and sustain that,” Malone said. “It gives you confidence when you go on the road against a very tough team in a tough environment (and win). … To get this first one is great, now we have to keep on pushing in the right direction.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.