On Damian Lillard, the Nuggets, the Kitchen Sink, and His Assists Total

On Damian Lillard, the Nuggets, the Kitchen Sink, and His Assists Total article feature image

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0).

  • Damian Lillard notched "a quiet 39" points in a Game 1 road loss to the Denver Nuggets.
  • Matt Moore analyzes how Dame should approach Game 2 and what it means for his points and assist props.

DENVER — “We’ll have to give him different looks. We’re not going to come out to start the game and blitz him every time we get the chance. We’re going to give our guys the chance to guard him.”

Those were the words of Nuggets coach Michael Malone before Game 1 of Nuggets-Blazers in their second-round Western Conference playoff matchup, when I asked how high on his list of priorities “getting the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands” would be.

Here’s what happened on the Blazers’ first possession:

They are throwing the kitchen sink at Lillard. He finished Game 1 with 39 points on 21 shots, with a 72.9% True Shooting percentage. Denver did everything and Lillard still put up a monstrous line.

And yet, it felt kind of empty. A “quiet 39, if there is such a thing” was something a league executive described it as to me afterward. Lillard got his, the Nuggets clamped down on everyone else, and their offense was enough.

Lillard had a 118 offensive rating in Game 1. He also had a 121 defensive rating because Jamal Murray got loose in the pick and roll and Nikola Jokic dominated all game.

So here’s the question. With an over/under of 29.5 for points and 6.5 assists, what’s the play?

One thing that happened often on Lillard’s turnovers was that he tried to split the double off the hedge on the perimeter.

You can tell Lillard wants to get Jokic downhill.

When Lillard gets Jokic backpedaling, it’s doom. When Jokic is at the level, it’s tougher. Against those wing traps, Lillard tried to force the issue instead of backing off and finding what would be an open shooter on the wing.

Lillard will probably try better angles on his passes and either gets through the double more cleanly or passes around/through it more efficiently in Game 2. Our FantasyLabs model has Lillard’s assist over as a bet value of 10 tonight.

The X’s and O’s confirm that; Lillard should be able to continue to find Enes Kanter on duck-ins and get a few more perimeter shots for Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and in particular, Zach Collins who showed some offensive stuff even if his defensive issues were explicit.

The other key element here is Malone’s comments after the game. Malone can’t stand bad defensive games. He’s much more comfortable winning a game 91-88 than 135-120. He called out the defense after the game and it’s apparent that Kanter’s easy buckets under the rim were particularly bothersome to him.

But if the Nuggets crash down more, that’s going to open up more kicks to 3-point shooters, and wide open looks. Kanter will still eat, that’s what he does; he creates production, not impact.

But more focus on him will only open up opportunities for guys like Moe Harkless, Seth Curry, and Rodney Hood, who had a fantastic Game 1 with 17 points and has a lot of matchup advantage in this series.

Lillard showed in Game 1 you can’t do anything to stop him, and the Blazers will need him to have another big night.

Expect him to get a friendlier whistle (even with 15 free throws the officials missed a few on him), fewer turnovers, and to put up over 30 points. The assists total, however, seems like a lock as Denver remains committed to trying to get “anyone but Dame” to beat them.