Nikola Jokic, Nuggets Beat Blazers in Game 2 to Even Series; Damian Lillard Scores 42

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 25, 2021

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) passes against Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington (23) in the first quarter of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, May 24, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
AP Photo/Joe Mahoney

Crisis averted for the Denver Nuggets.

Denver defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Monday at Ball Arena. Nikola Jokic led the way for the Nuggets, who evened the series at one game apiece and avoided losing each of the first two contests at home.

Damian Lillard's incredible performance wasn't enough for the Trail Blazers, who still have home-court advantage following their Game 1 victory.

Notable Player Stats

  • Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 38 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST
  • Michael Porter Jr., F, DEN: 18 PTS, 4 REB, 2 STL
  • Paul Millsap, F, DEN: 15 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST
  • Damian Lillard, G, POR: 42 PTS, 10 AST, 4 REB, 9-of-16 3PT
  • CJ McCollum, G, POR: 21 PTS, 6 REB

Nuggets Ride Quick Start to Clutch Victory

There wasn't much to feel optimistic about from Denver's perspective entering play after its defense was torched by Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony in Game 1, and its offense managed just 23 points in the first quarter of the loss.

To its credit, it wasted little time responding to the pressure that was entirely on its side.

The Nuggets extended their lead to as many as 18 during the first half and were still up 12 at halftime, even though Lillard basically took a flamethrower to their defense for stretches. Jokic was in complete control offensively with scoring in the lane and his unique ability to facilitate from the frontcourt, while Paul Millsap provided secondary offense on the blocks.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

MPJ from deep 💰<br><br>Nuggets up big pic.twitter.com/UL6FLpHweu

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

WATCH YO HEAD pic.twitter.com/2jH8ROvD8l

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

No better way to end a half! pic.twitter.com/880LssRBuq

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

The vibes... they are good pic.twitter.com/ZWfPkpZsPj

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Jokic is frustrated with the refs 😳 pic.twitter.com/UiARTlz5EA

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

omg FACU NUTMEG pic.twitter.com/woVfGW0mf9

Throw in Michael Porter Jr.'s outside shooting, and Denver had enough offense to survive all of Lillard's punches in the early going.

Aaron Gordon got involved in the third quarter with multiple threes and at least passable defense on Lillard, which helped the home team keep Portland at bay. He was one of six Nuggets who finished in double figures, which was a type of support that Lillard didn't receive on the other end.

Frankly, the officials caused more frustration for Denver than the Trail Blazers defense, as Nurkic picked up a technical foul and a string of whistles grinded the pace to a halt.

While slowing Lillard looks like it will be a problem throughout the series, the Nuggets at least came out with a sense of urgency when their season was largely on the line, received a clutch performance from their MVP frontrunner and avoided a daunting 2-0 hole as the series shifts to Portland.

Damian Lillard's Brilliance Not Enough for Trail Blazers

If there was ever a playoff game to play loose in, it was Monday's for Portland.

After all, it already stole home-court advantage by controlling Game 1 on the road and figured to have plenty of confidence against Denver after winning the regular season finale by double digits as well.

The rest of the team outside of Lillard must have missed the memo, though, as only McCollum had more than two made field goals at halftime among the supporting cast. Fortunately for the Trail Blazers, Lillard unlocked his entire arsenal of superpowers to keep them within striking distance.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

LOGO LILLARD 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OBffNMVsZO

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport


Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Three straight 3's for Dame.<br><br>Here we go ⌚️ pic.twitter.com/CUSgl6PVJl

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

4 STRAIGHT THREES. DAME GOING OFF. pic.twitter.com/kllg4u7zy4

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

CJ couldn't believe this was a flagrant 👀 pic.twitter.com/0KvmHZTQkg

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Melo got a flagrant for this foul on Jokic. pic.twitter.com/AeolMhrmU3

He had a ridiculous 32 points behind eight made three-pointers at intermission and didn't hesitate to launch from well beyond the arc. Yet the visitors were still down double digits for much of that stretch because of their defensive woes, which tracked considering they were second in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating in the regular season, per NBA.com.

Things didn't get much better for Portland in the second half considering Denver eclipsed the century mark before the end of the third quarter, Jusuf Nurkic fouled out and 21 turnovers undercut its comeback efforts.

The biggest remaining question from the Trail Blazers' perspective was how many points Lillard would finish with, although he slowed down in the second half as the Nuggets threw double teams his way and forced the ball out of his hands.

There is still reason for confidence after splitting the first two on the road, especially if Lillard is going to shoot like he did for stretches of Monday's contest, but if they are going to advance, the defense will have to be at least passable when games are still on the line.

What's Next?

The series shifts to Portland for Thursday's Game 3.