Jokic powers Nuggets past Blazers in semis series opener
LOS ANGELES, USA – Nikola Jokic pumped in 37 points as the Denver Nuggets hacked out a 121-113 victory over the Portland Blazers to take Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference semifinals series on Monday, April 29 (Tuesday, April 30, Manila time).
Jokic, who also had 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and couple of blocks, helped foil the Blazers’ comeback bid behind Damian Lillard, whose back-to-back layups put Portland within 5 points, 101-96, with 9 minutes left.
Jamal Murray also scored 23 and dished out 8 assists, while Paul Millsap chipped in 19 points for the No. 2 Blazers, who are playing in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
"I was aggressive a little bit more,” said Jokic. “We found a way to win the game. That's the most important thing."
Lillard – who led the Blazers past the Thunder in the first round with a 50-point explosion capped by a buzzer-beating triple – fired a game-high 39 points but shot only 4-of-12 from beyond the arc.
The Blazers headed into the series well-rested as they dispatched the Thunder in 5 games, while the Nuggets were just two days removed from going full distance in the best-of-seven against the San Antonio Spurs.
Both teams came out firing, the Blazers connecting on 63.6% of their first-quarter shots and Denver making 61.9% as the 1st period ended tied 32-32.
Denver, up 58-55 at halftime, pulled away after the break, taking a 93-84 lead into the final period.
Portland trimmed a 12-point deficit tojust 5, 101-96 with 8:02 left in the game.
But Denver responded with an 8-0 scoring run, ignited by Mason Plumlee's dunk.
Portland's CJ McCollum was then whistled for a flagrant foul when he caught a driving Jokic in the face, and the Serbian made both free throws.
Plumlee then slammed home a miss by teammate Malik Beasley, who also rebounded another miss and made a layup as the Nuggets seized a 109-96 lead with 6:11 left to play.
Denver was in control from there, although Jokic and coach Mike Malone said they had plenty of room for improvement before they host Game 2 on Wednesday.
"We kind of went into the game a little sloppy, slow, we didn't play a lot of defense," Jokic said.
Malone also felt the Nuggets were lacking defensively, especially in the early going.
"We got the win, and when you know you haven't played your best basketball that's a good feeling," Malone said. – With a report from Agence France-Presse