Trail Blazers guard Simmons brings nuggets to the Stone Age
The Portland Trail Blazers faced one of his toughest challenges of the season on Monday night, facing Denver Nuggets and their MVP center, Nikola Jokić. As it turned out, the challenge was as tough as overdone pasta, as the Blazers steamrolled Denver 135-110.
Damian Lillard dominated the first half. He finished the night with 31 points on 10-16 shooting with 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Anfernee Simmons took the lead in the third period, in which Portland turned a 6-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Simmons scored 29 for the game, shooting 7-12 from distance. With Jokic sitting out most of the game with fouls, that was all the Blazers needed to win their fourth straight to start the season.
If you missed the action, shame on you! Luckily, Matthew Legros has you covered our quarter-by-quarter recap. After studying that, here are seven takeaways from Portland’s win.
Smart Nuggets…For half off
Field goal percentage is one way to tell if a team’s offense is clicking. But the percentage does not say everything. Where shots come from is also important (and often contributes to percentage). Denver had no problem getting shots where they wanted in the first half. They enjoyed layups, posts and offensive rebounds. In between, they made enough shutouts to make the Rockettes jealous. Even on their lower-percentage three-point attempts, they simply outplayed the shorter Blazers. Kudos to the Nuggets for veteran savvy, taking advantage of games without having to feed a star for isolation attempts. Denver finished 49.5% from the field for the game.
The Blazers also had a few tricks up their sleeves. Tap-out rebounds for second chances have become a staple of Portland’s offense. Portland can’t necessarily grab the boards, but they can bounce them off opponents. Fast breaks also provide a source of easy buckets when the offense stops. Those extra, easy points remove the over-reliance on the three.
Portland got 9 offensive boards tonight, almost matching the 10 that a much bigger Denver team got. 26 points at halftime highlighted the effort the Blazers put forth.
The Blazers have struggled against every opponent they have faced thus far. It didn’t work well. Tonight it is. Zoning against the Nuggets made them burst at the seams. Openings came from the midrange. This was the only time all night that Denver’s efficiency wavered, but boy did it waver. They only got jumpers against the zone and almost all of them missed badly.
The third period was won on a long shot, but Portland’s zone made the margin meaningful instead of ceremonial.
Usually “zone defense” and “good defenders” don’t belong in the same sentence, but there’s something vaguely appealing about keeping the mobile Blazers close to the game instead of pulling them out of position and recovering.
Adjustments in the third quarter
The third quarter was a nightmare for the Blazers last year. This has been an intermittent problem for some time. Under-talented squads tend to excel early and then fizzle out when a better team starts paying attention.
If early season third periods are any indication, the Blazers might be the better team this year. The Blazers trailed 61-55 at halftime, but took about three minutes to erase that deficit with a defensive shift, a run and a barrage of 3-pointers by Anfernee Simmons. By the time the smoke cleared, Portland led 99-86. It was a 19-point swing in one period.
Stay tuned, but halftime could prove to be a boon this year.
Portland started the game sketchy from distance, but then when they warmed up, they heated up. The Blazers made 11 3-pointers in the second half, blowing the Nuggets out of the water. Now they are better as an inside team. When do outside shots fall? Watch out.
The Blazers had no answer for Denver’s forwards. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter, Jr. were simply too big for Portland’s defenders to handle. Porter, Jr. had 18, shooting 50% from the field and 4-8 from the arc. Gordon scored 26 on 12-16 shooting.
Portland’s guards did their damage, though. Denver didn’t get far enough on Simmons and couldn’t stay in front of Lillard. Dame fed Simmons in the third period as Anfernee hit 6 of 7 3-pointers. Yes, in the neighborhood. At a certain point, it was like a video game. Portland was on the good side. Simmons had 22 points, yes, IN THE QUARTER.
If Nikola Jokić is the Joker, tonight they judged Batman. Jokic spent most of the evening in foul trouble, picking up his fourth midway through the third period. He scored his fifth with 9:00 left in the fourth. Jokić attempted only 4 shots in 27 minutes of play. No matter who else Denver has, that’s a big advantage for the opponent.
If you’re counting, the MVP finished the slot-machining night with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. In theory, pennies should have spilled out of Denver’s locker room at that point, but given the final score, it probably looked more like tears.
Blazers welcome Miami Heat at the Moda Center on Wednesday night, tip-off at 7:00 p.m. Pacific.
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