Buddy system: Bond between Jokic, Murray showing on court
DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic got right to the point on his flourishing chemistry with teammate Jamal Murray .
After all, he believes it’s something to write home about.
“We are playing really good together,” the versatile Denver Nuggets big man said . “He’s a great basketball player, a great competitive guy and I just love to have him as a teammate.
“Did you write that down?”
Write on! Or so the Nuggets are hoping.
Jokic and Murray combined for 60 points in a 121-113 win over Portland on Monday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. That eclipsed the Blazers tandem of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who had 55 points. Game 2 is Wednesday at Pepsi Center.
The Murray-to-Jokic, Jokic-to-Murray connection is quickly gaining steam as their pick-and-roll game gave the Blazers fits. It’s a contrasting style to the one the Blazers faced in a first-round series with Oklahoma City, when they had to slow Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
Paul Millsap said he’s seen just about every defense employed to stop Jokic. He has yet to witness one that completely works.
“He sees how people are playing him and guarding him and he makes the right play every time,” Millsap said. “That’s what’s great about him — he doesn’t force anything. Everything is going to be the right play. He’s going to make the right reads. He’s like a quarterback out there.”
Audible time for the Blazers, who didn’t have a whole lot of opportunity to prep since Denver’s series went seven with San Antonio. Although, the Blazers are quite familiar with their Northwest Division rival.
“You go from playing a team who’s a lot of pick-and-roll, a lot of one-on-one, to playing against a team who’s a lot of movement, pretty much just moving around the whole game,” Blazers forward Maurice Harkless said. “They just played a little harder than we did. We didn’t execute as well as we should on either end. We’ve just got to learn from it, look at the film, see what we can do better, and just be better next game.”
At the top of the list — stop Jokic. He hit 11 of 18 shots and all 12 of his free throws on his way to 37 points.
“You’ve just got to make things difficult for (Jokic),” Lillard said. “We’ve got to be physical. We’ve got to be ready to help the bigs on the post. We’ve also got to make sure that when he’s putting up shots, we’re keeping him off the glass, because he’s one of the best at shooting the ball, following his shot, then the second attempt is usually easier than the first one for him.”
Another item on the list — containing Murray. Of the point guard’s eight assists, seven were to Jokic. He also had 23 points.
“Just playing my game. If somebody is open, I pass it and if I’m open, I shoot,” Murray said. “When everybody is making shots, it makes it a lot easier.”
That chemistry he has with Jokic is developing quite smoothly.
“We read each other really well,” Murray said. “He’s such a good passer and can shoot. There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump.”
BLAZERS AT NUGGETS
Nuggets lead 1-0. Game 2, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: The Nuggets are 6-5 all-time against Portland in the playoffs. ... Denver beat Portland despite being outshot (51.9% to 50.6 and outrebounded (40-34). The Nuggets are 9-52 in the playoffs when both of those stats occur in a game, according to research by the team. ... Portland had 18 turnovers for a third time in six playoff games this season.
INJURY WATCH: Despite a sore left shoulder, Blazers center Enes Kanter had 26 points. “Just keep playing through it,” Kanter said. “Pain killers, injections, anything I can do to help my teammates.”
KEEP AN EYE ON: Portland starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Harkless, who were held to four points. They were a combined minus-25.
PRESSURE IS ON: Millsap. The Nuggets’ most experienced postseason player set the tone with 10 points in the first quarter. He finished with 19. “The pressure is on us to stop them defensively,” Millsap said.