The Trail Blazers won Game 4 of their first-round series with the Denver Nuggets the same way they won Game 1 – ball movement and spreading the scoring around.
It’s not something the team has been able to accomplish on a consistent basis this season, but when it does, good things happen.
In the middle two games of the series so far, both losses, Portland had a total of 35 assists. In its two wins, it had a total of 54 assists. Intelligent and skillful ball movement means better shots. Open shots.
Which usually means wins.
After Game 3, in which unheralded Denver guards Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers gave Portland fits, the respected website/newsletter True Hoop, owned and often authored by former Portlander Henry Abbott, was critical of Portland’s play and offered commentary and suggestions in a post with a headline "The Blazers lost to the Nuggets because they are so much better."
The piece seemed to indicate that Portland's big advantage at the guard positions didn't exactly turn out the way the Blazers expected in the team's two losses and, in fact, it may have had something to do with their downfall.
“Campazzo makes some incredible passes, forces heroic turnovers, and wins all kind of referee games. McCollum evidently finds him annoying, which Campazzo turned into free throws and the ball. Talking about it the next day on his podcast The Pullup, McCollum didn’t say Campazzo’s name. He called him 'little buddy.' At that time the series was tied 1-1, and McCollum made a passing reference to wrapping it up in five or six. Now the Nuggets lead 2-1.”
Abbott also quoted David Thorpe, a basketball trainer, coach and mentor to pro players who often writes for the website, as saying he watched the Trail Blazers’ defense and the Lakers’ defense side by side and “found the difference in defensive intensity shocking.”
And Abbott had this to say about the Portland offense:
“Somehow, the idea of inferior opponents hurt the Blazers on offense too. With the ball, Lillard and McCollum seemed determined to feast on 'Little Buddy' and Austin Rivers. The two Blazer guards combined for 51 shots in Game 3. The idea is that those shots wouldn’t be well contested, but they were seldom wide open. A team that averages 39 percent from 3 managed only 31 percent.
“Brendan Haywood called the game for NBA TV, and asked: “Do you think you can win a title playing so much iso?”
“When you’re determined to score on someone, it takes a little focus away from the best play in basketball, which is scoring on air, by finding the open man.
“Anfernee Simons, who made 43 percent of his 3s this year and recently hit 13 in a row, attempted just two 3s. The same’s true of Robert Covington, who makes 38 percent.”
The Trail Blazers returned to sharing the ball Saturday afternoon and got 29 points from Norman Powell, 21 from CJ McCollum, 17 from Jusuf Nurkic, 9 from Robert Covington and 12 from Carmelo Anthony while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Yes, sharing the ball seems to be a good idea. Game 5, Tuesday in Denver, will tell us if the Blazers are all in on the concept.