When Carmelo Anthony came in for C.J. McCollum with 4:51 left in the first quarter of Portland’s 123-109 triumph over Denver in Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs, the booing erupted on the Ball Arena floor.
Anthony, the Nuggets’ No. 3 overall choice in the 2003 draught, said on Wednesday that “Denver will always carry something special to me.”
The veteran showed it against the Nuggets with a superb first-half shooting performance that helped the Trail Blazers take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which will resume on Monday at Ball Arena. As one of six double-figure scorers, Anthony finished with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Damian Lillard led the team with 34 points and 13 assists, but Denver never anticipated Anthony to have such an effect off the bench.
When Anthony entered the game, Portland was down three points. Anthony made his second consecutive 3-pointer three minutes and six seconds later, tying the score at 26 points. Anthony’s first long-range basket, which came off a Lillard pass, launched a 9-0 surge that grew into a 15-4 outburst to conclude the first quarter, with the veteran winger adding 12 points.
Anthony had a team-high 12 points in the first quarter, shooting 4-for-5 from the field, including 3-of-3 from long range, in only five minutes on the court.
Anthony added another 3-pointer in the second quarter to finish the half with 15 points, which led all Blazers.
The performance was one of several great efforts by Portland’s supporting cast, as McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Norman Powell, and Anfernee Simons combined for 61 points, on top of Lillard and Anthony’s combined 52 points.
It’s worth mentioning that teams that win Game 1 of a best-of-seven series on the road are 52 percent more likely to win the series overall.
Fighting the 3-pointer Denver’s pick-and-roll coverage played a role in what happened, which is why Nuggets coach Michael Malone continued telling his players to jump up on the screen and take away the 3-pointer in the second half.
The Blazers went 19-for-40 from 3-point range, with five players — Lillard, Anthony, McCollum, Robert Covington, and Anfernee Simons — each hitting two.
Late in the second half, Denver concentrated on following Malone’s instructions. When the Nuggets cheated on the pick-and-roll to take away the long ball, Portland’s ballhandlers — particularly Lillard — found open teammates near the basket on a regular basis.
The Nuggets were unsure what to take away as a result, which is why Portland was able to shoot 5-for-10 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, matching Denver’s scoring in the paint (8 points).
Nurkic, who was dealt from Denver to Portland in 2017, scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
More from Jokic’s supporting cast is required.
With 34 points and 16 rebounds, Nikola Jokic matched Lillard’s output, while Michael Porter Jr. chipped in with 25 points. However, Denver’s starting guards, Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo, struggled to score. In 32 minutes, Campazzo went 3-for-4 from the field for eight points and eight assists. In Game 2, Campazzo may need to make more shots.
Monte Morris and Markus Howard, who combined for 17 points on 8-for-15 shooting off the bench, could be in line for more playing time in the future.
Denver will struggle to match up with Portland’s backcourt of McCollum, Lillard, and Simons without Jamal Murray due to a ruptured ACL.
Michael C. Wright is an NBA.com senior writer. You can contact him via e-mail, browse his archive, and follow him on Twitter.
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