A two-man game can be very entertaining to watch and very effective.
The pick and roll between Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard and big man Jusuf Nurkic has been a key piece of the Trail Blazers offense this season and in Portland’s 121-118 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night, the duo was dialed in early.
But what is it that Lillard enjoys most about the two-man game between him and Nurk?
It’s not predictable as, I guess, just a straight up pick-and-roll because I can hit him and get the ball back. He can roll. I can flip to CJ. There’s so many other options. I can hit him, cut backdoor, he can throw it to me, not throw it to me, go into something else. There’s so many different actions that we can get into out of it, so that’s why I think it’s going really good.
The Lillard and Nurkic connection obviously depends on how the opponents defend the pick-and-roll.
“It’s nothing new, I guess. Sometimes it’s just how they guard it, you know our guards… They try to blitz (double team) them most of the game, so I just try to make the play,” Nurkic said.
Nurkic's found his teammates early and often, in the pick and roll, and out of other action. The big man had some impressive passes to Lillard cutting to the hoop starting with a dish to Lillard at the 7:19 mark in the first quarter.
Nurkic finished with six assists to go along with his 10 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes of action. It was Nurkic's 16th double-double of the season.
“I’m just try to do my role and try to affect the game in many ways… I try to take advantage,” Nurkic said.
It may seem that Nurkic is looking to pass more, but to Lillard, Nurkic's passing has come from his increased playmaking role. Lillard also compares the Bosnian Beast to former Trail Blazer Mason “Plumdog Millionare” Plumlee.
“We’ve been running a lot of our motion down actions, playing through him at the top, just cutting and screening for each other and he’s, we’ve always known he’s a really good passer. I think now he’s just been in a position to… a playmaker position more often lately. Kinda like how Mason was. You know, he’s been in the position to make the pass or go into a handoff or off a pick and roll, he get it and then they pull over and then he’s finding the next guy… His passing ability has really shown because of that,” Lillard said.
Case and point, at the 5:13 mark in the 2nd quarter, when two crisp passes went back and forth from Dame to Nurkic, then back to Lillard again down low for a lay-in.
Lillard led all scorers with 33 points and also dished out seven assists.
Lillard returned the favor to Nurkic at the end of the second quarter. With 4.6 left in the first half, Lillard found Nurkic for the dunk.
Nurkic was looking at a potential triple-double at halftime with eight points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. But to Nurkic, it’s not at all about padding stats.
“I’m not hunting anything, man. I’m in the flow. What happens, happens,” Nurkic said.
A seven-footer who dishes out six assists while playing in the flow of the offense should help Portland grab more wins this season and beyond. Keep an eye on his assist average of 2.6 per game. It could be on the rise.