By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
Following the win of the Portland Trail Blazers over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the playoff series, and with Nikola Jokic being limited to a season-low one assist, Jusuf Nurkic essentially summarized his team’s defensive strategy against the Serbian MVP candidate with one simple sentence: “We want him to score and not get his teammates involved.”
Flash forward to Game 4. After the Nuggets grabbed two straight wins to take the lead in the series, Jokic had an ugly case of deja-vu with one assist again plus 16 points in one of his least productive performances this season. With their main offensive conductor getting his baton broken under the weight of the Blazers‘ defensive force, the Nuggets had a cacophony of a game, falling 115 – 95. They were down even by 33.
Jokic, who sat out the last 15 minutes after going to the bench with his team down 56 – 82, acknowledged that his team was simply outplayed and failed to deliver as a result.
“It was a bad game, they picked up the energy, they picked up the pace, their starters beat us by a lot, and we didn’t respond well,” Jokic said. “We need to be much better.”
Was it fatigue that prevented Jokic from playing to his MVP standards? The two-time All-Star attributed some of his struggles to how Nurkic, his former teammate, guarded him and foiled his efforts to generally initiate offense.
“Give Nurk [Jusuf Nurkic] credit, he was playing really good defense,” Jokic said. “Not just him, the whole Portland team played really good D, especially early in the game, and even if I was open, sometimes I missed. But give Nurk credit he played amazing defense.”
Nuggets coach Mike Malone didn’t think that the loss came as a result of a fight scheme gone bad. According to Malone the fault lied with the lack of serious effort and toughness.
“When we start watching film I think it will jump off the screen that we weren’t ready to play, it will show them we weren’t physical enough, it will show them that they outworked us,” Malone said. “Hopefully when they see the film, they are embarrassed by the effort and we come to game five with the requisite effort that is needed to compete in a playoff game against a very good team.”
“It wasn’t the game plan, it wasn’t X’s and O’s, it was the intangibles and we have to win the intangible battle moving forward in Game 5,” Malone also mentioned.
Jokic didn’t see his team getting loose and complacent after grabbing a 2-1 advantage since that could be calamitous against the Blazers.. “No… I mean… you can’t be because they’re a really dangerous team and we cannot be satisfied, we cannot play easy, we cannot have a relaxed mentality,” he said.
The Nuggets will look to retake the upper hand Tuesday (1/6) at home. Jokic may need to make some adjustments against a Blazers’ defense that is locked on ruining his playmaking impact, but he’s not going to change the approach that has guided him so far through his career.
“I’m going to play how I always play,” Jokic said. “I’m going to take whatever the game throws me. I’m not gonna force it, I’m not gonna do anything stupid, I’m just going to go there and play the game like I’m playing for fun. So I’m just going to go there and play normally how I play.”