Blazers seeking better balance against Nuggets
The good news for the Portland Trail Blazers is that Enes Kanter played well despite a shoulder injury. The bad news is it didn't matter against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series Monday night.
Kanter was questionable after getting hurt in the series finale against Oklahoma City on April 23 but he looked fine in scoring 26 points Monday. He made 11 of 14 shots and pulled down seven rebounds in 33 minutes in Portland's 121-113 loss.
"Enes was terrific, very efficient, finished around the basket playing through the shoulder injury," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "I couldn't have asked any more of him."
The Trail Blazers are going to need more than Kanter -- and Damian Lillard -- to beat the host Nuggets in Game 2 on Wednesday night. Lillard had a game-high 39 points in Monday's loss but Denver contained the rest of the Blazers. The Nuggets also forced 18 turnovers, six by Lillard.
"We had some soft plays, soft turnovers, especially at the end of the half," Stotts said. "There's no question the turnovers hurt us."
So did Nikola Jokic, who continued his impressive playoff debut. The Denver center had 37 points and nine rebounds and made 11 of his 18 shots. He was also perfect on 12 free-throw attempts.
Stopping him, or simply keeping him in check, will be a priority for the Blazers.
"You're not going to completely take him out, but you have to make things difficult for him," Lillard said. "We've got to make him see bodies, we've got to be physical, we've got to be ready to help on the post and get back to our man. We've also got to make sure when he's putting up shots, we're keeping him off the glass. He's one of the best at shooting the ball and following his shot and getting a second attempt."
Jokic was assertive in the third quarter when he scored 15 points and hit six free throws. He didn't force anything and took what Portland gave him.
"I can read everything," Jokic said. "I just need to know what they're doing and I'm capable of reading the defense."
Both sides will concentrate more on defense in Game 2 after both shot better than 50 percent in the opener.
"Neither team could stop one another," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "I kept telling our guys, 'Once we get our defense into the game we're going to be OK.' The first team that actually gets defense into the game will be the team that wins."
That could be the case in Game 2, but Portland needs more scoring from other players. CJ McCollum had 16 and Rodney Hood added 17 off the bench, but no other player scored more than four points.
The Blazers will need guys like Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to hit shots when they're open.
"We've got to take shots that are there," Stotts said. "Those guys in particular take the opportunities that are there and they weren't there tonight."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 30, 2019