Two teams, each with a win and a loss in the series under their belt, heading into a Game 3 showdown in Moda Center Thursday night.
The Denver Nuggets won Game 2, evening the series with an offense that beat the Trail Blazers in the paint, on fast breaks and on second-chance points.
Decisively in all cases.
The Trail Blazers won Game 1 with a barrage of three-point field goals – 19 made out of 40 attempts.
The losses, in both cases, prompted the coach of the losing team to publicly call out their own players, asking for more aggressive and physical play.
And that brings us to Game 3.
It will be two teams looking to take the lead in the seven-game series, both being implored by their coach to be more aggressive, assertive and physical.
In yesteryear in the NBA, that usually meant confrontations, cheap shots or even outright fights.
But these days it usually results in hard fouls, naughty words or insults being hurled and a few “let-me-at-him” pull-aparts with no actual punches being thrown.
All of it raises the tension and temperature in the arena, which will feature, for the first time at Moda since the pandemic began, a crowd in the neighborhood of 8,000.
Playoff basketball is back in Portland!
Based on the first two games of the series, there are a few things to watch for as keys to winning for one team or the other:
- Portland center Jusuf Nurkic must stay out of foul trouble. Without him on the floor, the Trail Blazers have a miserable time trying to defend Denver’s Nikola Jokic.
- In fact, it would not be surprised to see the Blazers double-team Jokic when backup center Enes Kanter is on the floor, taking the chance that other Denver shooters won’t be able to hurt them with open shots that could come with the double-teams.
- The Trail Blazers have to cut down on their turnovers. Historically, Portland turns the ball over fewer times than any other team in the NBA, but had 21 of them in Game 2. The Nuggets turned those turnovers into 22 points.
- Portland may have to take Damian Lillard off the ball more often when he’s being defended by the 6-9 Aaron Gordon – which should help him get open for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
- Denver needs to continue to get off to fast starts, putting the Blazers behind early in the game. In the playoffs, comebacks can be harder to come by.
- The Blazers need to get back to the ball movement that led to 29 assists in Game 1.
- The Nuggets have something to do with that. If they don’t have to double-team any Portland players, the Blazers are not going to have as many open perimeter players.
- Pick-and-roll defense is extremely important for both teams.
- Will the crowd be a factor? Possibly. But that remains to be seen. Certainly, there will be electricity inside Moda Center that hasn’t been there for more than a year.
- It should be fun.