Maybe it was the air up there. The Trail Blazers were in mile high city for game one of the semi finals vs the Denver Nuggets and it showed. Damian Lillard had 39 points, but he didn’t look himself at all. He surely wasn’t the take no prisoners Damian we saw in game 5 of the first round. Portland couldn’t overcome a bevy of mistakes, losing game one 121-113 to the Nuggets.
Yes Nikola Jokic scored 37 points, including 12/12 at the free throw line. Yes, Murray came out ready in game 1 with 23 of his own. Sure, Denver’s role players showed up. But, so did the Blazers. Rodney Hood had 17. Evan Turner made key rebounds and brilliant passes to open guys. The Blazers bench matched Denver’s, point for point, 28 to 28. Enes Kanter had 26 and 7 despite his shoulder.
The Blazers wounds Monday were all self inflicted. There were far too many errant passes that turned into Denver points. The Nuggets scored 23 points on 18 Blazers turnovers. The defense was far to lax on the Blazers end, allowing several open threes that allowed Denver to stay in the lead. It was one thing after the next, and it was all night long.
Aminu headed butted Lillard, travelled, dribbled into a contested paint, reverted to his old self. CJ McCollum made a brief appearance in the first before he faded into the backdrop. Late in the game, the Trail Blazers had the opportunity to get back within three. CJ missed a pass to Kanter, lost the ball, then flagrant fouled Jokic with a slap to the face on the other end. Lillard had six turnovers, not able to pass the ball out after losing his dribble. Turnover. Turnover. Turnover. Harkless was nonexistent. The Blazers couldn’t make their free throws. They missed seven.
Through all of it, the Blazers remained close. Denver never ran away with it. The Blazers lost by eight, but it was a close eight. Minus a handful of mistakes the Blazers could have won. The Nuggets couldn’t stop Lillard. Kanter can score on Jokic with ease. Portland outshot Denver from the field. Portland can and should win this series.
The Blazers can take game 2. Figuring out Millsap on defense will be big. Close out on open threes. Make free throws. Be smarter about passes. McCollum, Harkless, and Aminu need to show up. Cutting down on mistakes will give Denver less opportunity.
So, take a day, breathe in that thin Denver air. Get used it. Practice in it. Acclimate. Then come back Wednesday and take home court advantage from the Nuggets. I mean, it’s the air up there. It has to be…right?