The Trail Blazers went old school Thursday night in Brooklyn against the Nets.
Portland went inside to its centers. Over and over and over.
And over again.
Remember when having a low-post center who could score was a big deal? Well, the Trail Blazers turned back the clock Thursday night.
Two Blazer centers combined for 45 points and 21 rebounds as Jusuf Nurkic made 10 of his 15 shots and grabbed 12 rebounds and Enes Kanter, born in Turkey and making his Portland debut, hit eight of his nine shots, scored 18 points and hauled in nine rebounds in just a little under 20 minutes.
The Blazers finished with 66 points in the paint.
“He basically played the way we expected him to play,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said of Kanter. “I don’t know if you could have asked for a better first game from him.”
In a league dominated by three-point shooting, playing a power game with a big center is a real throwback. But high-percentage shots still have extreme value, particularly late in close games and when the shooters can also make free throws if fouled …
And, of course, on nights when the three-ball isn’t falling – like Thursday night for Portland.
“They are going to change the dynamic for a lot of teams in how they guard us,” CJ McCollum said. “They will be able to get a lot of attention, draw fouls and get us in the bonus a little bit earlier and present some different challenges for a lot of teams.”
The Trail Blazers made just 7 of 32 heaves from distance, with Damian Lillard and McCollum combining to hit only 3 of 15.
But Nurk and The Turk mopped up the mess, collecting a total of eight offensive rebounds.
“Obviously, our two big guys really dominated inside,” Stotts said. “They were a big part of our offense.
“We’ve been good, offensively, all season. And I think now we’re improved. Nurk has always been good on the pick-and-roll and Enes is good on the block.”
“Defensively, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Portland is stockpiling centers. Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard – who have each had good moments this season – did not get into the game and newcomer Skal Labissiere is plopped down at the end of the bench, where he is expected to stay with the four others ahead of him.
“He was tremendous,” Nurkic said of Kanter. ”If he can continue to play that way, it will be huge.”
McCollum said of Kanter: “He’s a monster, man. I’ve seen his work ethic the last few summers, living in New York and living in the same building.”
Kanter, who had been with the tanking Knicks prior to making his escape, was excited.
“The last time I got a win, I think it was two months,” he said. “First, it was amazing, man. I didn’t know any sets. We just went over them yesterday and it was like smoke coming out of my ears. I didn’t know any of them.
“But when you play with guys like Dame and CJ, they make the game so easy for themselves and for everybody else around them. That’s what made it so special.
“Winning is fun again. I hope it keeps getting better and better.”