Sports

Trail Blazers’ Nikola Jokic plan worked to perfection in Game 1

Go ahead, Nikola. Score as much as you want. Light it up.

That’s essentially what the Trail Blazers want the MVP candidate to do. That’s their plan, allow Nikola Jokic to score, but not distribute.

“We want him to score and not get his teammates involved,” Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic told reporters after Portland took the opener of the first-round series in Denver, 123-109. “When he scores, I think we have a better chance. The fact he isn’t involving all his teammates, he gets more dangerous when he’s in and out. I think we feel more comfortable when he scores 30 or 40 and try to lock in on all the other guys to not have a big game.”

It worked Saturday night. Jokic scored 34 points, but he had just one assist, a career low in the playoffs for the gifted big man. Obviously, the Trail Blazers would prefer if Jokic shot a low percentage. But they are doing their best to avoid double-teaming him to limit his playmaking abilities without fellow top scorers Jamal Murray and Will Barton available.

“When they’re at their best, he’s setting the table, he’s dominating the game as a playmaker. As a scorer, he’s having his way,” Damian Lillard said. “You know a guy as good as he is, an MVP candidate — the MVP, in my opinion — you know he’s going to play well. He’s going to do what he does, but you have to try to take something away.”

NBA playoffs 2021 Trail Blazers Nuggets Nikola Jokic
Jusuf Nurkic of the Trail Blazers (l.) defends the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic during an NBA playoff game on May 22, 2021.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Nuggets shot 1-for-10 on Jokic passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Trail Blazers.

“They were playing me straight up,” Jokic said. “They were going under pick-and-rolls. They didn’t help much on my drives or post-ups. It was that kind of night.

“They did a good job. They made me work for it on every possession. They kind of took other guys out. I couldn’t get other guys involved, maybe. Just because of the assists, I’m saying that.”

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