Damian Lillard Reiterates Nikola Jokic Is 2021 NBA MVP After Blazers Beat Nuggets

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2021

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) moves against Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter (11) 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

The Portland Trail Blazers strategically limited Nikola Jokic's playmaking ability in Saturday's Game 1 victory, with the favorite for NBA MVP finishing with a season-low one assist.

That said, Damian Lillard isn't backing off his endorsement of Jokic as the league's most valuable player.

"When they're at their best, he's setting the table, he's dominating the game as a playmaker. As a scorer, he's having his way," Lillard told reporters after the Blazers' 123-109 victory. "You know a guy as good as he is, an MVP candidate—the MVP, in my opinion—you know he's going to play well. He's going to do what he does, but you have to try to take something away."

Jokic finished with 34 points and 16 rebounds, so it wasn't as if the Blazers held him completely in check. However, Portland chose to play straight-up defense rather than offering help against Jokic, limiting his ability to open the offense for teammates.

"They did a good job. They made me work for it on every possession. They kind of took other guys out. I couldn't get other guys involved, maybe. Just because of the assists, I'm saying that," Jokic said.

Michael Porter Jr. (25 points, nine rebounds) and Aaron Gordon (16 points, eight rebounds) were effective as scorers—despite Porter going just 1-of-10 from three—but the trio of Denver stars combined for two assists, and the rest of the roster struggled as a result. The Nuggets shot just 30.6 percent from three-point range and went to the free-throw line eight times, with those two categories being the difference.

Lillard finished with 34 points and 13 assists.