Damian Lillard, Blazers Beat Nikola Jokic, Nuggets in Game 1 of NBA Playoff Series

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 23, 2021

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo (7) in the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Damian Lillard's 34 points and 13 assists propelled the Portland Trail Blazers to a 123-109 road win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series at Ball Arena.

Portland outscored Denver 38-25 in the third quarter to take a 96-86 lead into the fourth. Denver cut the edge to four points in the fourth on two occasions but could not come any closer.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic's 34 points and 16 boards led Denver, whose bench combined for only 20 points.

Notable Performances

Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard: 34 points, 13 assists

Trail Blazers SG CJ McCollum: 21 points, 6 rebounds

Trail Blazers F Carmelo Anthony: 18 points

Nuggets C Nikola Jokic: 34 points, 16 rebounds

Nuggets SF Michael Porter Jr.: 25 points, 9 rebounds

Nuggets PF Aaron Gordon: 16 points, 9 rebounds

Lillard Leads Portland To Win

It was Dame Time in Denver on Saturday as Lillard started Portland's playoff run on the right foot.

Lillard's connection with Carmelo Anthony was working early, with the point guard drawing in the defense before kicking it out to the 10-time All-Star for his second straight three in the first quarter:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

he just needs a little space pic.twitter.com/Dg6Tg8KOYR

Anthony caught fire, scoring 12 points in a 2:21 span and hitting another three following a Lillard dish:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

Carmelo Anthony Appreciation Post pic.twitter.com/1SaGyoP4Ym

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

MELO IS ON FIRE 🔥<br><br>12 PTS on 3/3 3PT<br><br>(via @NBATV)pic.twitter.com/RhtazbsxaZ

Lillard continued to get the rest of his teammates involved, slicing a pass to Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic to slash Denver's lead to three in the third quarter:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

😤 @bosnianbeast27 😤 pic.twitter.com/v9wu7bLmht

Sometimes, Lillard took care of business himself, like when he took on Denver forward Michael Porter Jr. and nailed a jumper during a late third-quarter run:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

can Dame have this dance? pic.twitter.com/pqQfATBTCn

Or when he stuck a deep three despite a double team to cap a 8-0 run:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

Dame. Lillard. pic.twitter.com/BFzYRU8B8t

That may not have even been his most impressive bucket of the night, as he drilled a quick, off-balance three to give Portland a 113-103 edge:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

just......how?!? pic.twitter.com/77podDPcup

New York Times bestselling author Shea Serrano posited a question after watching Lillard's dominance:

Shea Serrano @SheaSerrano

would you rather try and guard damian lillard for a single possession in the playoffs or get single shards of glass pressed into your feet for eternity

In the end, Lillard's dominance was simply too much for Denver to overcome in Game 1.

Jokic Stars in Defeat

It was a rough second half for the Nuggets. They sorely missed the clutch scoring and play of point guard Jamal Murray, who suffered a torn ACL. Denver went just 11-of-36 from three-point range, while Portland shot 19-of-40 from deep.

Despite the three-point differential and Lillard's excellent night, Jokic kept the shorthanded Nuggets in this game, delivering a dazzling array of moves en route to stuffing the star sheet.

Jokic's patented Sombor Shuffle move made a first-quarter appearance, with the NBA MVP frontrunner hitting a jumper over Blazers center Enes Kanter for a early four-point lead:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Make sure to tell the casuals that it's called the Sombor Shuffle pic.twitter.com/viifu3uny6

That was one of many excellent first-half plays from Jokic, who had 22 points and seven dimes by halftime:


Nikola Jokic starts off his #NBAPlayoffs with a 22-point, 7-assist half on ESPN!@nuggets 61@trailblazers 58 pic.twitter.com/ZCValkfs1X

Jokic kept it up in the third thanks in part to this spin move:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

A lil' spin cycle pic.twitter.com/sXibxHpvT6

However, Denver faltered down the stretch, with Portland going on an 11-0 run after Jokic hit a turnaround jumper. The Blazers got hot, while Denver couldn't muster much offense en route to defeat.

Jokic was still great, and ex-Nugget great and Basketball Hall of Famer Alex English approves:

Alex English @AlexEnglish_2

Blazers have no answers for the MVP Jokic

He's certainly capable of willing his team to victory on any given night. That wasn't the case Saturday, but the 26-year-old delivered another MVP-like performance nevertheless.

What's Next?

Game 2 of the best-of-seven matchup will tip off at 10 p.m. ET Monday in Denver.