The Denver Nuggets entered the second-half of Game 2 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers needing to make a change. Damian Lillard’s offense went ablaze, and he lit them up for 32 points before the break
As the Nuggets thought about changes, Aaron Gordon, their high-profile mid-season acquisition approached them as the answer.
“I got him,” Gordon told the Nuggets coaches.
Lillard only scored 10 points in the second-half, and the Nuggets ended up winning the game, with Gordon ending the night as his primary defender.
“You know what, let's throw Aaron Gordon on him,” said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. “That's one of the reasons we brought AG here is that defensive versatility. And obviously, he embraced it, he wanted it. That's the best part about it: This is something Aaron Gordon has been wanting to do."
Lillard is no stranger to team’s putting bigger defenders on him, especially when he’s lights out. After Game 2, much of the talk was Gordon’s defense and Lillard expected Gordon to continue defending him and explained what to do against bigger defenders.
"I expect it to continue," Lillard said. "Just moving around more off the ball, getting more off-ball sets. Usually bigger guys can use their length and athleticism on the ball, but when you start to move around on flares and pindowns and things like that, typically you can get a little bit of space."
The adjustment proved vital so much, the Nuggets went back to it again in Game 3.
Gordon was once again Lillard’s primary defender and held the All-Star guard to seven points on 3-for-8 shooting (37.5%) and 1-for-5 (20%) from the three-point line.
With the bigger man on Lillard, the natural expectation is for him to attempt to beat Gordon off the dribble and get to the time.
Gordon is aware of that and has done his part to stay out of foul trouble when Lillard is attacking the basket.
“Show your hands, move your feet, and try and block his shot when he puts it in the air,” said Gordon on guarding Lillard. “I may give up a step or two on quickness, maybe a step, but I make up with it with my length and athleticism, so I try and get it when it’s on the rim.”
There is a slight uptick in drives from Lillard from the regular-season to the postseason. He’s scoring 8.7 points on 14.3 drives per game, shooting 52.6%.
For the series, Gordon has spent the second most minutes guarding Lillard behind Facundo Campazzo and has only allowed 16 points on 5-for-15 shooting (33.3%) and 2-for-9 from three (22.2%).
Gordon is by no means stopping him to the point where he can become known as the “Lillard stopper.”
In totality, Lillard is actually averaging a postseason career-high across the board in points (37.7), assists (9.3), shots (26.7), field-goal percentage (45%), three-point percentage (43.2%), and eFG% (56.9%).
Gordon’s job is to make it tough for Lillard when he can, and when the two are matched up, he’s done exactly that.