The Trail Blazers ball movement was on point from the jump in Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, while the NBA world was treated to “Blazer basketball,” with pass after pass zipping around to find the open man.
And with the movement came wide open looks from 3, which the Blazers took advantage of as Portland defeated Denver 123-109.
Two big beneficiaries of the extra pass came off the bench.
Thanks to Anfernee Simons and Carmelo Anthony’s hot 3-point shooting early, they helped give the Blazers a 35-30 first-quarter lead.
The two gave the Blazers instant offense.
Portland’s bench finished with 34 points led by Melo’s 18.
“Melo, obviously, in the first half scored 15 and he gave us a boost that we needed,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame. “He was in a good rhythm, shot the ball really well. He got good looks because of our passing.”
As the Nuggets crowd booed Anthony, he calmly knocked down open 3s, while also making a difference at the other end.
Simons got the 3-point party started less than two minutes after he checked in for the first time Saturday. He continued to confidently drain three and three in the second half.
Simons finished with 14 points and three rebounds in the win.
After being in and out of the rotation during the regular season, Simons has earned his playoff minutes and in Game 1, he proved he belongs.
“He’s a young player and he’s gone through some growing pains,” Stotts explained. “But he never lost his work ethic or trying to get better, and obviously, it’s clicked for him for the last couple of months and it’s very timely.”
Simons credited his mentality and preparation.
“It’s my first time really playing in the rotation in the playoffs so I wanted to be as clear-minded as possible. I think I’ve been doing that a lot this past week and it helped me out a lot,” Simons explained.
Anthony and Simons combined to shoot 8-for-13 from deep.
It was Damian Lillard’s 15 third-quarter points of his 34 on the night along with his 13 playoff-career-high assists that put the Blazers over the hump in the second half.
But Lillard knows that getting a boost like they got from Simons is key moving forward and it’s something he’s been waiting on.
Now the NBA world is getting more of a glimpse of what Lillard and the Blazers have seen in the 21-year-old.
To have a Future Hall of Famer and rising young gun provide such a spark in Game 1 is a welcomed sight with the Nuggets focus and any other playoff opponent’s focus on Lillard and McCollum.
Portland looks to go up 2-0 in Game 2 on Monday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m. PT on NBC Sports NW, the official home of the Portland Trail Blazers.