Trail Blazers plan to turn Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic into just one goalscorer pays off in Game 1 win
The message was clear from the Trail Blazers when they won Game 1 against the Nuggets on Saturday night: If Nikola Jokic wants to beat Portland, he won’t as a passer.
The Denver MVP contender had 34 points and 16 rebounds in a 123-109 loss, but was limited to one assist at the low of the season and playoffs. Much of this was due to Terry Stotts’ game plan, which called for single cover on Jokic rather than aggressive doubles teams. That’s a smart strategy given that the Nuggets currently rely on backup guards who typically don’t create their own offense after Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier losses to injuries.
Jokic torched Trail Blazers big men Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter at the start of the first game. Find out how much time and space Jokic has to operate here.
Portland refused to send help even if there was an obvious mismatch. When Robert Covington (6-7, 209 pounds) switched to Jokic (6-11, 284 pounds), all of the other Trail Blazers defenders stayed home.
If they don’t come and double down when Jokic has Covington on him, they’re not coming to save anyone. Jokic has 22 points, six rebounds and no assists. pic.twitter.com/chVz5IBAKt
– Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) May 23, 2021
Jokic lost 22 points in 18 minutes of the first half, but entered the locker room with zero assists and a narrow three-point lead. His one-on-one success didn’t deter the Trail Blazers at all, as they’ve stuck with the script for the past two quarters.
Jokic is such an indifferent man. Nurkic gives every effort. Recovers to pop. Contains the player. Is there in the post. Jokic just turned two dribbles and let him go. pic.twitter.com/PArURVofpl
– Steve Jones Jr. (@ stevejones20) May 23, 2021
This perseverance has paid off against arguably the greatest transit center of all time. With Jokic unable to create easy opportunities for his teammates, Portland beat Denver 65-48 in the second half to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
While the dynamic Trail Blazers duo of Damian Lillard (34 points, 13 assists) and CJ McCollum (21 points) did some damage, they also received a major boost from Nurkic (16 points, 12 rebounds, five assists). ), Carmelo Anthony (18 points) and Anfernee Simons (14 points). The non-Jokic Nuggets weren’t that great on the pitch, but they struggled from a distance of 3 points and didn’t make it to the free throw line. Michael Porter Jr., in particular, had a rough night, passing 1 in 10 beyond the arc without any attempt at a free throw.
After the first match, Stotts, Lillard and Nurkic all noted how important it is not to allow Jokic to involve others. Denver’s offense is best when Jokic throws darts off the post that lead directly to buckets or set off a chain reaction that the defense can’t recover from. It just didn’t happen on Saturday.
Despite being a No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with the likely MVP, it certainly feels like the shorthanded Nuggets are facing an uphill climb. The Trail Blazers’ approach has laid bare their limitations, and Jokic’s individual brilliance may not be enough to overcome them.