Nuggets outlast Blazers 108-104
Some problems are becoming too big too ignore for the Portland Trail Blazers after another tough second half, losing their second straight game Tuesday to the Denver Nuggets 108-104. Damian Lillard had 30 points in the loss. Denver’s rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists in the win for the Nuggets.
Until last night’s loss against the Pistons, the Blazers were able to hide the fact that their pick and roll defense was one of the league’s worst in terms of points allowed per possession both to ball handlers and the screener according to Synergy Sports Technology. That pick and roll defense was exposed once again in the loss to the Nuggets.
The Nuggets had 32 shots inside the restricted area, making 21. Portland took 28 but converted only 14 of their shots inside the restricted area.
Over the first few games, Portland has shown an ability to score with the best of teams. They’ve even done a better job of getting back in transition defense. But their pick and roll defense still leaves a lot to be desired. Scoring guards are attacking the Blazers with success.
In addition to Mudiay, JJ Hickson had a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds off of rolls to the basket or going against smaller players on switches.
Will Barton was quiet for most of the game but had seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter while Hickson scored 8 in the fourth. Mudiay also had two big blocks on Lillard in the fourth quarter.
CJ McCollum scored 12 in the final period but it wasn’t enough to carry the Blazers to victory and hold on to the one-point lead they had going into the fourth. The Blazers took much better care of the ball but couldn’t buy a bucket, despite being given many chances by the Nuggets defense. Portland’s offense suffered bouts of standing around, but they also failed to cash in on opportunities to hit open shots, which they had plenty of late.
When they were down by four with 30 seconds left, Lillard got a wide-open look at a 3-pointer and missed. Hickson–a career 62 percent free-throw shooter–went 4-for-4 at the line in the last two minutes.
They showed no signs of fatigue early in the first quarter. Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard rediscovered the success they had throughout most of Sunday’s game against the Pistons. Leonard connected on a couple of jumpers but he also helped move the ball to other players out of it. When Leonard plays with little hesitation and is a screen-settting/dribble-hand-off machine, good things happen.
The Nuggets second unit helped them briefly take control of the game. Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless both chipped in on the offensive end but the tempo was allowing both teams to get good looks. Every Denver reserve made a basket in the second quarter, but Lillard eventually wrestled the game back in Portland’s favor.
Lillard scored 20 points or more for the 8th straight game. The Blazers led by just one at halftime as the Nuggets managed to keep it close by getting quality shots.
In the third, Denver outplayed the Blazers. At least for most of it. Lillard was kept quiet for much of the third period and as a result, so where the Blazers. Most of the shots they put up were bricks. But then in the final minute of the third, Lillard scored six consecutive points including a four-point play.
After a 7-0 mini-run by CJ McCollum, the Blazers took a 1 point lead with 8:29 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when Lillard came back into the game.
But Lillard’s re-entry into the game did not trigger an offensive surge. For the second consecutive night, the Blazers offense looked stagnant in the fourth quarter. The ball didn’t move the same way around the perimeter. The Leonard-Lillard pick and roll wasn’t bearing fruit and far too many possessions ended in contested jump shots.
With their jump shots not falling, Portland had to get back into the game with their defense. Al-Farouq Aminu had a strip of Danilo Gallinari which he took back for a score with 4:50 left to tie the game at 93.
The Blazers dropped another winnable game ahead of the highly anticipated return of LaMarcus Aldridge to the Moda Center in a San Antonio Spurs uniform.
- Stotts extended Allen Crabbe’s minutes in the first half. Crabbe scored in double-figures for the second consecutive game with 11 points. He’s clearly more confident than he’s ever been and has the responsibility of being a secondary shot creator off the bench. Crabbe hasn’t shot well from 3 but so far this season has the best field goal percentage of his career.
- The Blazers got beasted on the boards tonight. There’s really no way around it. JJ Hickson had 13 rebounds and Kenneth Faried had eight rebounds to go along with 17 points. Overall, the Blazers were out-rebounded 47-39.
- Meyers Leonard fouled out with 39 seconds left. The Blazers brought Davis in but it’s hard to say that Leonard fouling out didn’t hurt Portland’s offense. Leonard’s game is starting to round into form but Portland lost him when his shooting threat may have helped them down the stretch.
- It’s early in the season but down the stretch it also seemed like the Nuggets just had more energy. The Leonard disqualification hurt Portland but there were several extra-effort plays the Nuggets made late to put the game away.
- The Blazers took the loss despite the fact that Al-Farouq Aminu significantly outplayed Denver’s Danilo Gallinari. Aminu guarded Gallinari most of the night, holding him to six points, five rebounds, three assists and four turnovers on 2-for-10 shooting. Aminu had 12 points, four rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 1 steal and one turnover.