Jokic shines as Nuggets even series with Portland

Denver's Nikola Jokic scored 38 points as the Nuggets overcame Damian Lillard's hot shooting to win, 128-109, and even their NBA playoff series. Lillard scored 32 first-half points — 42 in all – for Portland.



May 25, 2021 - 8:40 AM

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets played with an unspoken sense of urgency.

“Because if you’re going to talk about it, you’re not going to do it,” the big man reasoned.

So no talk, just a much more physical mentality.

Jokic scored 38 points to overcome a 3-point shooting barrage from Damian Lillard and the Nuggets evened the first-round series by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 on Monday night in a chippy Game 2.

“They picked up the aggressiveness and we did it, too,” Jokic said. “We met their aggressiveness, maybe even a little bit higher.”

Jokic also had eight rebounds and five assists, which was four more than he dished out in Game 1 when the Blazers made sure the big man didn’t beat him with his pinpoint passing. 

The third-seeded Nuggets had few answers for Lillard early on as the dynamic playmaker scored 32 of his 42 points in the first half. His eight 3-pointers before intermission tied an NBA playoff record for most in a half. Lillard finished 9 of 16 from 3-point range.

A change of plans at halftime helped slow down Lillard. Denver put the 6-foot-9 Aaron Gordon on the 6-2 guard.

“I looked at the coaching staff and said, ‘I got him,’” said Gordon, who was acquired from Orlando in late March. “It could be a point guard or it could be a center — I’m there for it all.” 

Lillard’s already thinking ahead to Game 3 in Portland on Thursday and what he will do to counteract Gordon’s defensive tenacity.

“Just moving around more off the ball, getting some more off-ball sets,” Lillard said. “Things like that, you can typically get a little bit of space.”

It was a physical affair, with four technical fouls being issued (three on Denver, including one on Jokic) and two flagrant-1 calls (CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony). 

“It was chippy and that’s the way it should be,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I loved it. That’s my kind of game right there.” 

Up by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets withstood a mini-rally from Portland before Facundo Campazzo sealed the win with a 3-pointer. Monte Morris also had a big block on Lillard. 

Michael Porter Jr. found his rhythm and finished with 18 points. He was 3-of-6 from 3-point range after going 1-of-10 from long distance in Game 1.

The usually sure-handed Blazers committed 21 turnovers. They also were outscored 54-32 in the paint, 16-4 in fast-break points and 21-4 in second-chance points. 

“They outplayed us top to bottom — other than Dame’s (42),” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We have to be more aggressive, there’s no question.”