The Denver Nuggets got back into their series with the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night in large part to the play of Nikola Jokic.
The likely league MVP was spectacular once again, going for 38 points, eight rebounds and five assists while shooting an efficient 15-for-20 from the field in the Nuggets' 128-109 win to even the series at one apiece.
Jokic was also great in Game 1, but he made a few adjustments in Game 2 which allowed the Nuggets offence to get back to what they do best when he's on the floor.
In Game 1, Jokic got baited into what the Trail Blazers wanted him to do. Portland was content on letting Jokic post-up and play one-on-one basketball while they focused on making sure none of the other Nuggets had an impact offensively. Jokic got his, going for 34 points, but he was limited to just one assist turning into the one-dimensional player the Blazers hope they can contain him to be.
With Jokic posting in Game 1 and the Blazers choosing not to double him, it made the Nuggets' offence more standstill than normal.
The Nuggets were top three in the NBA this season in cuts frequency at 8.9 percent according to NBA Stats. When Denver's offence is at its best, there's movement off the ball which Jokic can work off of and dissect the defence. With him on the low block in Game 1, the lane was constantly clogged, preventing cutters from becoming an option.
In Game 2, the Nuggets made the shift to pulling Jokic away from the low block and back in his office on the elbow. No one had more elbow touches per game this season than Jokic, where he averaged 8.8 per game, according to NBA Stats. In the Game 1 loss, he had just three elbow touches. In Game 2's win, he got back to business with 12 elbow touches. The result? The paint was no longer congested and Denver had more fluidity to its offence.
Denver finished Game 2 with 29 assists on their 46 made field goals. In Game 1, they had just 22 assists on 47 made field goals.
The simple change of putting Jokic back on the elbow instead of posting on the low block changed the way Portland had to guard in Game 2.
With the series now tied at 1-1, the ball is in the Trail Blazers' court to make the correct adjustments to counter what the Nuggets and the MVP frontrunner did to even the series.
Game 3 is set for Thursday, May 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET on TSN 3 in Canada and NBA TV in the U.S.
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