Nikola Jokic scored 38 points to overcome a 3-point shooting barrage from Damian Lillard and the Denver Nuggets evened the first-round series by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 on Monday night in a chippy Game 2.
Jokic also had eight rebounds and five assists, which was four more than he had in Game 1 when the Blazers made sure the big man didn’t beat him with his pinpoint passing.
The 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.
Game 3 will be Thursday in Portland.
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. “We’re all fighting for something. That’s the way the playoffs should be. I loved it. That’s my kind of game right there.”
Aaron Gordon’s shut down defence
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.
The difference may have been the defence of Aaron Gordon, who helped shut down in the second half.
“He did a really good job,” Jokic said of Gordon’s defence.
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 20 turnovers. They also were outscored 54-32 in the paint and 16-4 in fast-break 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.”
While Lillard lit it up — and McCollum added 21 — the Nuggets kept Anthony and Anfernee Simons in check. They hurt the Nuggets coming off the bench in the series opener.
The game turned physical early in the first, with Jusuf Nurkic and Jokic getting tangled up and Jokic falling to the floor. At the next timeout, the teams started jawing near midcourt, leading to technical on Porter and Portland assistant coach Nate Tibbetts.
The tempers escalated as Anthony pushed Jokic down and drew a flagrant-1 foul. Just when things began to settle down, Morris picked up a technical right after the halftime horn. Lillard shot the free throw to start the second half.
Bucks ride hot start to down Heat
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 31 points and Bryn Forbes led Milwaukee’s scorching start from 3-point range as the Bucks trounced the Miami Heat 132-98 on Monday night to extend their lead in this first-round playoff series.
Milwaukee shot 22 of 53 from 3-point range — including 15 of 29 in the first half — and never trailed while leading by as many as 36 points. The Bucks’ 22 3-pointers were their highest total ever in a playoff game.
Forbes scored 22 points and went 6 of 9 on 3-point attempts.
The Bucks own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series as they attempt to oust the team that beat them 4-1 in the second round last year. Game 3 takes place Thursday in Miami.
Milwaukee’s two victories in this season couldn’t have looked much more different.
The Bucks needed Khris Middleton’s tiebreaking jumper with 0.5 seconds left in overtime to pull out a 109-107 victory in Game 1, which neither team ever led by more than eight points. Milwaukee essentially put away Game 2 in the first quarter as its 3-point attack went from fizzling to sizzling.
Milwaukee had shot 5 of 31 from behind the arc and made its fewest 3-pointers of the season Saturday. The Bucks were 10 of 15 on 3-point attempts in the first quarter alone Monday.
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The Bucks led 46-20 at the end of the first quarter and 78-51 at halftime as they posted the highest first-half point total in their playoff history.
The hottest shooter on the floor was Forbes, who signed with Milwaukee in November after spending four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Forbes came off the bench to score 14 points in the first quarter while shooting 5 of 6 overall and 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Middleton finished with 17 points and Pat Connaughton had 15 while shooting 5 of 9 from beyond the arc. Antetokounmpo had 13 rebounds and six assists to go along with his 31 points.
Jrue Holiday’s 15 assists were one off the Bucks playoff record that is shared by Paul Pressey and Oscar Robertson. Holiday also had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Miami’s Dewayne Dedmon had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead the Heat in both categories. Goran Dragic had 18 points and Bam Adebayo added 16.