Trail Blazers Guard Simons Blows Nuggets Into the Stone Age

The Portland Trail Blazers faced one of their toughest challenges of the season on Monday night, taking on the Denver Nuggets and their MVP center, Nikola Jokic. As it turned out, the challenge was as tough as the overdone pasta, as the Blazers defeated Denver 135-110.

Damian Lillard led the first half of the game. He finished the night with 31 points on 10-16 shooting with 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Anfernee Simons took over in the third period, where Portland turned a 6-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Simons scored a game-high 29, shooting 7-12 from long range. With Jokic spending most of the game on the bench with foul trouble, that’s all the Blazers needed to win their fourth straight to start the season.

If you missed the action, shame on you! Fortunately, Matthew Legros has you covered with our quarter-by-quarter roundup. After considering that, here are seven takeaways from Portland’s win.

Smart nuggets…For one half

Field goal percentage is one way to tell if a team’s offense is clicking. But the percentage does not tell everything. Where the shots come from also matters (and often contributes to the percentage). Denver had no problem shooting where they wanted in the first half. They celebrated in the lane of push-ups, posts and offensive shots. In between, they generated enough shots to make the Rockettes jealous. Even on their lower-percentage three-point attempts, they simply towered over the shorter Blazers. Credit the Nuggets for veteran savvy, taking advantage of matchups without having to feed a star for isolation efforts. Denver completed 49.5% from the field per game.

Light points

The Blazers also had a few tricks up their sleeves. Second-chance rebounds have become a staple of Portland’s offense. Portland can’t necessarily grab the boards, but it can take them away from the opposition. Quick break points also provide a source of easy buckets when the tread dries out. Those extra, easy points take away too much reliance on the 3-pointer.

Portland grabbed 9 offensive boards tonight, almost matching the 10 that the much bigger Denver team has managed. 26 points at the break highlighted the Blazers’ effort.

Zone

The Blazers have run zones against every opponent they have faced thus far. It hasn’t worked out very well. Tonight, it did. Zoning against the Nuggets forced them to shoot up the seam. The openings came from the middle level. This was the only time all night that Denver’s efficiency faltered, but boy did it faltered. They only got jumpers against the zone and almost all of them missed badly.

The third period was won on a long shot, but Portland’s zone made the difference instead of ceremonial.

Normally “zone defense” and “good defenders” don’t belong in the same sentence, but there’s something a little appealing about the mobile Blazers keeping themselves close to plays instead of being dragged out of position and having to recover .

Third quarter adjustments

The third quarter was a nightmare for the Blazers last year. It’s been a discontinued issue for a while. Talentless rosters tend to shine early, then fade when the best teams start paying attention.

If the third periods early in the season are any indication, the Blazers just might be the best team this year. The Blazers trailed 61-55 at halftime, but took about three minutes to erase that deficit with their defensive shift, run and a flurry of threes by Anfernee Simons. By the time the smoke cleared, Portland led 99-86. It was a 19-point swing in a single period.

Stay tuned, but the first installment could turn out to be a boon this year.

leash

Portland started the game sketchy from distance, but when it warmed up afterward, they heated up. The Blazers hit 11 threes in the second half, blowing the Nuggets out of the water. They are better as an inside team now. When do the exterior shots fall? Careful.

discrepancies

The Blazers had no answer for Denver’s forwards. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter, Jr. were too big for the Portland defenders to handle. Porter, Jr. had 18, shooting 50% from the field and 4-8 from the arc. Gordon scored 26 on 12-16 shooting.

Still, Portland’s guards did their damage. Denver didn’t do enough against Simons and couldn’t stand up to Lillard. Dame fed Simons in the third period as Anfernee hit 6 of 7 three-pointers. Yes, in the quarter. At a certain point, it was like a video game there. Portland was on his good side. Simons had 22 points, yes, in the quarter.

Joker sits down

If Nikola Jokic is the Joker, the referees were Batman tonight. Jokic spent most of the evening in foul trouble, earning his fourth midway through the third period. He picked up his fifth with 9:00 left in the fourth. Jokic only attempted 4 shots in 27 minutes of play. Regardless of who else Denver has, this is a huge advantage for the opponent.

If you’re counting, the MVP finished slot-machining the night with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Coins should theoretically have been pouring out of the Denver locker room at that point, but given the end result, it was probably more like tears.

The next one

Box score

The Blazers welcome the Miami Heat to the Moda Center on Wednesday night, tip-off at 7:00 PM Pacific.

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