Blazers 97, Nuggets 90: Three Takeaways from Game 2

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Denver Nuggets’ defense had another solid performance, but they couldn’t get going on the other side of the court in a 97-90 defeat in Game 2 against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Nikola Jokić led the Nuggets with 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists while CJ McCollum paced the Trail Blazers with 20 points.

The Nuggets struggled to find their shot throughout Game 2 as they only converted 34.7 percent of their overall field goals. The team would fall behind by as many as 17 before valiantly rallying in the fourth quarter to bring the game within five points. Denver would outscore Portland 26-19 in the final 12 minutes, but couldn’t find the tying basket down the stretch.

"If you think about the four losses we've had in the postseason, we're shooting 32 percent from three in our losses," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "Not to oversimplify it, but it's a make or miss league. We couldn't make a shot."

The Nuggets will now travel to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers on Friday in Game 3 at the Moda Center (8:30 p.m. MT, WATCH: ESPN, RADIO:KKSE-FM 92.5).

Here are three takeaways from Game 2:

Cold shooting night

The Nuggets’ inability to hit shots inside and out proved costly as they were unable to build any sort of rhythm on Wednesday evening. The team struggled from downtown, hitting 6 of their 29 attempted threes.

The Blazers deserve credit for some of the struggles as they switched matchups and schemes. Jokić shot 41.2 percent on the night and the Trail Blazers limited his opportunities to get touches – especially in the low post.

"They were aggressive as a team, as a group. They were coming [in] on my post-ups," Jokić said after the game.

When he did get under the rim, Portland doubled or tripled him with Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless helping Enes Kanter in the matchup. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Jokić’s teammates were unable to take advantage of the open shots created by those double teams. No Nugget shot over 42.9 percent on the night and the team had six players who couldn’t convert more than 40 percent.

Malone called on his team to attack the rim more when open shots aren't falling.

“We were getting such open looks that I understand our players shooting the shot, but when you’re not having a night where you’re making shots consistently, you got to attack the basket." Malone said. "You have to put pressure on the rim, you have to think attack instead of settle and I thought in the first half we didn't have that mindset."

Bad habits reemerge

While the Nuggets had some open opportunities, they also forced a lot of poor shots throughout the game. Denver is at its best when it is moving the ball, with two to four-pass possessions. It’s something Damian Lillard noted in his media availability on Tuesday.

“With Denver, the ball is just hopping around. They’re moving the ball, they’re constantly moving on offense. They’ve got so many guys who are capable of getting it done,” Lillard said.

He added, “There’s a reason why they are the No. 2 team in the West. They are getting it from so many guys consistently. When its not one guy or two guys having to do so much and its spread out the way it is, it just makes it a tougher cover.”

Denver wasn’t able to move the ball as effectively as it did in Game 1. The team also gave away points at the charity stripe as they missed 10 free throws. It’s an area Denver has had on-and-off struggles with in April. It cost the team in Game 1 of the first round before it dramatically improved in the area, shooting 79.5 percent in the past six games – good for sixth in the NBA Playoffs. If the Nuggets want to advance to the Conference Finals, they can’t afford to give away points.

Slowing down Lillard and McCollum

Despite the result, Denver can build off of what it showed defensively against Portland’s star backcourt. McCollum’s struggles in the semifinals continued, going 8 of 20 in Game 2, which is a continued credit to Gary Harris. More impressively, the Nuggets were able to force the Trail Blazers’ Lillard into a cold shooting night as he only shot 29.4 percent on the night.

Denver will likely regret allowing Kanter and Zach Collins to convert at a 62 percent rate, but the team managed to hold Portland to 97 points – a full 14.3 points under their postseason average. The Nuggets might also be encouraged by their showing on the glass. After being outrebounded in Game 1, they held a 58-47 advantage on Tuesday night.

"Our defense was great, we held them to 97 points, 42 [percent] from the field, 31 [percent] from three," Malone said before later adding. "I do love the fact that our guys competed at such a high level, at least gave ourselves a chance and played the way we need to play. Now, the challenge is doing for as close to 48 as possible."

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