When the stakes are high, and teams are facing each other multiple times over a myriad of days, things are bound to get intense.
It's playoff basketball at its finest.
With the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets first-round series tied at one apiece, the question turns to: How will the Blazers respond as the series shifts back to Portland?
Tightening up their defense along with a more disciplined approach on that end is where it starts for Portland following the 128-109 loss Monday night.
Couple that with a few changes that will be made, as noted by Damian Lillard and Robert Covington following Wednesday’s practice, and the Blazers are feeling good about where they’re at despite the way Game 2 turned out.
After Denver took a quick 17-7 lead in the first four minutes of Game 2, the Blazers and Nuggets bench cleared while double technical fouls were called. The technicals were assessed to Michael Porter Jr. and Blazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts after Porter Jr. pushed Jusuf Nurkic as Portland called timeout.
And that was just the beginning.
There were a total of 52 fouls whistled, including 27 on the Trail Blazers, which is roughly eight more fouls than Portland’s regular season average.
The aggressive nature from the Nuggets was in response to Game 1 and how Denver’s head coach Michael Malone approached his team by challenging them to be more physical and aggressive.
“That right there was a playoff game for both teams,” Coach Malone said immediately following the game. “The crowd was great, big shoutout to our crowd making this such a tough place to play. But it was chippy, and that's the way it should be. We're both fighting for something and that's the way the playoffs should be. I loved it, that's my kind of game right there.”
But for the Trail Blazers, as they prepare to play in front of 8,000 fans at Moda Center for Game 3, their approach is to make sure to not let their emotions run too high.
“I’m a big boxing fan, so when you get in the ring and you’ve got all this animosity and anger, and frustration, and aggression, sometimes that can get you hurt,” Lillard explained following Wednesday’s practice.
Lillard wants his teammates to “be at ease.”
But that doesn’t mean they’re going to back down.
“You don’t shy away from it if it comes to your doorstep.”
Which is also something Coach Malone discussed Monday night when referring to the physicality of Game 2.
It's about finding a good balance.
“I think when they started picking up the aggressiveness, we did it too, we kind of met the aggressiveness, maybe a little bit higher, but still controlling it.”
And with the officials also seemingly trying to regain control of the game, with more whistles in Game 2, the Blazers know the steadiness of not getting too high, but bringing the energy will be key moving forward.
“We just have to be careful with that and not be too emotional, and get too caught up in those things, and that’s usually who wins in the long run,” Lillard explained. “So, I think that has to be our mentality. We’ve got to be aggressive and assertive, just like anybody else would when it turns into that type of series. We’ve got to be under control.”
But what does a defensive minded guy like Robert Covington think the balance will look like?
“You’ll see tomorrow,” Covington said with a big smile.