Nikola Jokic scored 38 points to overcome a 3-point shooting barrage from Damian Lillard and the Denver Nuggets evened the first-round series by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 128-109 on Monday night in a chippy Game 2.
Jokic also had eight rebounds and five assists, which was four more than he had in Game 1 when the Blazers made sure the big man didn’t beat him with his pinpoint passing.
The Nuggets had few answers for Lillard early on as the dynamic playmaker scored 32 of his 42 points in the first half. His eight 3-pointers before intermission tied an NBA playoff record for most in a half. Lillard finished 9 of 16 from 3-point range.
Game 3 will be Thursday in Portland.
It was a physical affair, with four technical fouls being issued (three on Denver, including one on Jokic) and two flagrant-1 calls (CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony).
“It was chippy and that’s the way it should be,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re all fighting for something. That’s the way the playoffs should be. I loved it. That’s my kind of game right there.”
Up by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets withstood a minirally from Portland before Facundo Campazzo sealed the win with a 3-pointer. Monte Morris also had a big block on Lillard.
The difference may have been the defence of Aaron Gordon, who helped shut down in the second half.
“He did a really good job,” Jokic said of Gordon’s defence.
Michael Porter Jr. found his rhythm and finished with 18 points. He was 3-of-6 from 3-point range after going 1-of-10 from long distance in Game 1.
The usually sure-handed Blazers committed 20 turnovers. They also were outscored 54-32 in the paint and 16-4 in fast-break points.
“They outplayed us top to bottom – other than Dame’s (42),” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We have to be more aggressive, there’s no question.”
While Lillard lit it up – and McCollum added 21 – the Nuggets kept Anthony and Anfernee Simons in check. They hurt the Nuggets coming off the bench in the series opener.
The game turned physical early in the first, with Jusuf Nurkic and Jokic getting tangled up and Jokic falling to the floor. At the next timeout, the teams started jawing near midcourt, leading to technical on Porter and Portland assistant coach Nate Tibbetts.
The tempers escalated as Anthony pushed Jokic down and drew a flagrant-1 foul. Just when things began to settle down, Morris picked up a technical right after the halftime horn. Lillard shot the free throw to start the second half.
Milwaukee Bucks 132 Miami Heat 98
When the Milwaukee Bucks conducted a roster makeover in the wake of an early playoff exit, the addition of Bryn Forbes didn’t earn nearly as much notice as some other moves.
Looks pretty good right now.
Forbes made six 3-pointers on his way to 22 points, and the Milwaukee Bucks routed the Miami Heat 132-98 on Monday night for a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
The 27-year-old Forbes spent his first four seasons with San Antonio, but he signed with Milwaukee in free agency in November.
“That was a huge part in me coming here,” Forbes said. “You know that there would be these opportunities and we would be in the playoffs. … It’s just great to be in this position, be in the playoffs again and have an opportunity and stage.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who were eliminated by the Heat in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday in Miami.
Milwaukee shot 22 of 53 from 3-point range – including 15 of 29 in the first half – and never trailed while leading by as many as 36 points. The Bucks’ 22 3-pointers were their highest total ever in a playoff game.
“I don’t think we need to give ourselves a pep talk,” said Miami’s Bam Adebayo, who scored 16 points. “We’re grown men. At the end of the day, we are down 2-0. We know what we’ve got to do.”
Milwaukee’s two victories in this series couldn’t have looked more different.
The Bucks needed Khris Middleton’s tiebreaking jumper with 0.5 seconds left in overtime to pull out a 109-107 victory in Game 1. Milwaukee essentially put away Game 2 in the first quarter when its 3-point attack went from fizzling to sizzling.
“They made a lot of shots, but we didn’t make anything difficult on them or take anything away,” said Miami’s Jimmy Butler, who scored 10 points.
Milwaukee shot 5 of 31 from behind the arc and made its fewest 3-pointers of the season Saturday. The Bucks were 10 of 15 on 3-point attempts in the first quarter alone Monday.
The Bucks led 46-20 at the end of the opening period and 78-51 at the break, posting the highest first-half point total in their playoff history.
“It’s just how the game goes,” Forbes said. “It’s ebbs and flows. Some games you’re open a lot more. Some games you aren’t. Tonight I think we moved the ball great and had a lot of open shots.”
Forbes came off the bench to score 14 points in the first quarter while shooting 5-of-6 overall and 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Middleton added 17 points and Pat Connaughton had 15 while shooting 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.
Jrue Holiday’s 15 assists were one off the Bucks’ playoff record shared by Paul Pressey and Oscar Robertson. Holiday also had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Miami’s Dewayne Dedmon had 19 points and nine rebounds. Goran Dragic had 18 points.