Denver Nuggets 121, Portland Trail Blazers 113: Game 1 Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

It was clear from the get-go that this would be a completely different series for the Denver Nuggets. However, despite having less than 48 hours to prepare for the Portland Trail Blazers following Game 7 on Saturday, the Nuggets pulled out a 121-113 victory to take an early series lead. Offense was the theme throughout the game, as both teams shot over 50 percent from the field and benefitted from impressive performances from their star players.

"I thought our guys did a really good job responding after Game 7," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "Jamal, Nikola, Paul were terrific, while guys off the bench like Malik and Mason really stepped up. I'm proud of our guys for showing up."

The teams battled to a near draw throughout the first quarter. Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray each scored 10 points in first to lead Denver, but Portland received 10 points from Enes Kanter and C.J. McCollum to tie the game at 32 after one. Both teams knocked down over 61 percent of their shots in the quarter.

Portland’s bench had some success during the early portions of the second quarter, as Portland briefly jumped out to a 49-45 lead. After some cold shooting from three early in the quarter, the Nuggets responded with a 13-6 run to take a 58-55 lead into the halftime break. Millsap led the way with 17 points, while Nikola Jokić added 14 points of his own.

Denver broke open the game in the third quarter, as Murray and Jokić took turns making plays. Murray had three early assists in the quarter, with two of them going to Jokić, who benefitted from open looks that were generated through pick-and-roll actions between the two. The Nuggets opened up a 10-point lead after the first five minutes of the quarter and maintained the lead for the majority of the quarter, eventually taking a 93-84 lead into the final frame.

The Trail Blazers cut into Denver’s lead to begin the fourth quarter, as they used a string of 3-pointers and several layups from Damian Lillard to get within five points at the nine-minute mark. After Jokićchecked back into the game, the Nuggets responded with an 8-0 run to extend the lead back up to 13. Denver would hold on to a comfortable lead throughout the remainder of the game to seal the Game 1 victory.

Key takeaways:

1) Portland presents a different matchup

The quick turnaround from Game 7 against San Antonio presented several challenges for Denver. The Spurs play a very different style of basketball that is predicated on a slow pace and midrange jump shots. On the other hand, Portland executes its offense through plenty of pick-and-rolls and 3-pointers. Early in the first half, Lillard and McCollum would get open looks from three as a result of late coverage from the Nuggets. Portland finished 11 of 29 from beyond the arc, and Lillard and McCollum accounted for 19 of those attempts. As the series continues, it will be important for Denver to prepare for Portland’s screens and their star guards, who are more than capable of knocking down deep, tough 3-pointers.

"It's a completely different game and opponent," Malone said. "Your mindset has to change when it comes to the personnel. We had some good moments, but we'll watch the film and see what we can do better."

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2) Nuggets’ frontcourt thrived

While all eyes are on Portland’s backcourt, Denver’s frontcourt pairing of Millsap and Jokić face favorable matchups in this series, and that was on full display in Game 1. Millsap finished with 19 points (7-of-12 from the field), six rebounds and three assists while Jokić contributed 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists ina very well-rounded performance. As expected, Millsap also provided consistent defense, as he held Al-Farouq Aminu to two points on 1-of-5 from the field while he also committed three turnovers. With Jusuf Nurkic out due to injury, Portland lacks a consistent option to defend Jokić, while Millsap can overpower Aminu or Moe Harkless in the post. How the Trail Blazers attempt to adjust in the frontcourt matchup will be a key to watch moving forward.

3) Nuggets win first battle of the backcourts

Although Damian Lillard ended up with 39 points, the Nuggets have to be happy with how the battle between the two backcourts went in Game 1. McCollum was held to 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, Denver got key contributions from both Murray and Gary Harris. Murray dropped 23 points and eight assists on an efficient 8-of-15 from the field, while Harris provided physical defense and timely buckets on the offensive end, with the most notable being a reverse up-and-under layup late in the third quarter. Harris also had an important block against Lillard with just under two minutes remaining, which all but ended Portland’s hopes of a comeback. With Denver’s frontcourt having plenty of success, Murray and Harris provided just enough supporting play to lead the Nuggets to an important win to open the series.

"I think everyone in the locker room knows we have to be more locked in on defense to try and get the second win," Malone said. "I expect Game 2 to be another battle."

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