DENVER — Dame Time came early.
Damian Lillard took over the second quarter trying to will the Trail Blazers back into a game they had trailed almost from the opening tip. Lillard tied an NBA record with eight made 3s in the first half and scored 40 points on 11-of-20 shooting through the first three quarters. He also finished the night with 10 assists.
It was not near enough.
Lillard got very little help. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic scored 38 on 15-of-20 shooting, and he got plenty of help — Michael Porter Jr. had 18, Paul Millsap 15, and Aaron Gordon scored 13 and played respectable defense on Lillard.
The result was a comfortable 128-109 Nuggets win to even the first-round playoff series at 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday in Portland.
As expected after a Game 1 loss, the Nuggets came out with a real sense of urgency in Game 2 and by the middle of the first quarter had a double-digit lead after a 17-2 run. Jokic had 14 points in the first quarter.
That’s when Lillard took over — he had 22 points in the second quarter.
Lillard’s surge cut the Nuggets’ lead down to four and coach Mike Malone decided to switch up the defense that wasn’t working and threw Shaq Harrison at him off the bench late in the second — and Denver went on an 8-0 run to close the half. In the second half, Malone used the athletic Aaron Gordon on Lillard with some success.
As much as Lillard could rack up points, it didn’t matter because the Trail Blazers defense — 29th in the league in the regular season — could not slow the Nuggets down. Even in the second quarter with Lillard going off, the Nuggets still scored 42 points in the frame.
Things the Blazers normally do well, such as take care of the ball, they didn’t do well on Monday, coughing it up 21 times. Denver had a 22 point advantage in points in the paint.
The other difference in this game was the Nuggets bench. That group had been torched in Game 1 but came out in Game 2 and were +13 in the minutes Jokic was sat and rested — if the Blazers are to have any chance in this series, they have to dominate the Jokic-less minutes.
The game got chippy and felt like a playoff matchup in the first half, but in the second half the referees decided to “get control” of the game and started calling everything, ruining the flow of the contest. They even gave CJ McCollum a flagrant on a Facundo Campazzo flop. It made the game nearly unwatchable.
Fortunately, it didn’t change the game’s outcome because the Nuggets had taken care of business from the opening tip.
LISTEN & SUBSCRIBE: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast