Trail Blazers

Jusuf Nurkic slows down Nikola Jokic while also doing one key thing

Trail Blazers
Nurkic

It was Norman Powell’s world and the Nuggets were forced to live in it on Saturday in Game 4.

Powell burst into the scoring books notching the Blazers' first 10 points on his way to a game-high 29 as the Trail Blazers took Game 4, 115-95, to even up the series at two apiece.  

But in the win, the Blazers didn’t just get plenty of scoring from Powell, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic, they got it done at the other end as well anchored by Jusuf Nurkic.

Defensive woes coupled with Nurkic's foul trouble plagued the Blazers in the two previous games. 

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But it was a different story Saturday. 

As Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts put it, “it was key” for Nurkic to stay on the floor and not get into foul trouble.

 

The Blazers' starting center fouled out of Game 2 and Game 3, but in Saturday’s matinee victory, he finished the game with just three fouls and a solid +32.

Nurkic made an impact at both ends.

He mentioned that staying out of foul trouble was his focus ahead of Game 4.

“I mean, obviously, two games in a row being fouled out is not a good look and not usually what I do,” Nurkic explained postgame. “I watched the film and what I was supposed to do and tried to show my hands as best I can."

But the Blazers also realized that Nikola Jokic, who was held to just 16 points in 27 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting, didn’t hit the tough shots he had been knocking down all series.

Which Coach Stotts noted postgame. 

“It was probably a combination. I think [Nikola] missed some shots that he’s been making in the series. That’s one thing, but I do think that Nurk did a good job of guarding him and staying out of foul trouble,” Coach Stotts said. 

Nurkic finished with 17 points behind only Powell and CJ McCollum’s 21.

The Blazers shared the wealth in the scoring department as they also slowed down Jokic and Michael Porter Jr.

With so much of the Nuggets' attention on Damian Lillard in Game 4, the Blazers' role players stepped up in a big way. Lillard had just 10 points, but he also made sure to get his teammates involved. The All-Star point guard dished out 10 assists and brought the energy and effort on the defensive end.

Lillard and McCollum know the importance of Nurk staying out of foul trouble. 

“I thought he did a terrific job, for one, staying on the floor and two, making it tough on the Joker,” McCollum said. “Obviously, the Joker is the MVP of this season. He’s played extremely well throughout the season and this series.”

We need Nurk to be out there on the floor and I think he did a great job of battling defensively, rebounding, passing and finishing around the basket.

CJ McCollum

“I think for him, the biggest thing is just staying on the floor,” McCollum added. “If he stays on the floor, we’re in a good position to have success.”

 

Lillard was also pleased with the overall effort from the entire team to clamp down on defense.

“It was a great win for us,” Lillard said. “I think the way that we won the game, especially just coming out with a lot of energy, we defended, we were aggressive, the ball was moving, and typically we will start that way and will have drop offs, we won’t be able to sustain it. I thought we did a great job at keeping our focus and sustaining that level defensively especially to start the third quarter."

Obviously, when Nurk is right and he’s playing well and he’s sharp, finishing and making free throws and having an impact defensively, we’re a much better team and I think tonight showed that.

Damian Lillard

Nurkic and the Blazers will now head back to Denver for a pivotal Game 5. Denver and Portland will tip off Game 5 Tuesday at 6:00p.m. PT on NBCSNW.