NBA playoff tracker: Nuggets even series in Game 2 as Damian Lillard's hot start comes up short

·5 min read

Damian Lillard certainly came to play early on Monday night at Ball Arena.

His hot start, however, didn’t carry over into the second half — and the Portland Trail Blazers paid the price.

The Denver Nuggets, behind a 38 point night from Nikola Jokic, powered past the Trail Blazers to grab a 128-109 win in Game 2 and even up their opening-round playoff series 1-1.

“That right there was a playoff game, for both teams,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, via CBS4’s Michael Spencer. “The intensity, you had two high-level players in Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic playing at their respective levels … But it was chippy, and that’s the way it should be. We’re both fighting for something, and that’s the way it should be.”

Lillard wasted no time on Monday night, and dug Portland out of multiple double-digit holes in the opening half while putting up a ridiculous 32 points behind eight 3-pointers — which matched an NBA record for most 3-pointers in a single half in a playoff game.

Lillard didn’t hesitate to pull up from anywhere on the court, either.

Though he cut the game to just 11 points at the break — Portland opened the night on the wrong side of a 21-9 run — Lillard was the only Trail Blazers player to score in double figures in the first half.

While he eventually got some help in the second half, it was too late.

The Nuggets held Portland to just eight points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, and then used a 13-4 run early in the fourth to power through to the 19-point win.

“The reality is they were the more aggressive team,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said, via KOIN’s AJ McCord. “They outplayed us top to bottom, other than Dame’s [42 points].”

Jokic led the Nuggets with 38 points while shooting 15-of-20 from the field. Michael Porter Jr. added 18 points, and Aaron Gordon finished with 16 points and six rebounds. As a team, the Nuggets shot nearly 53% from the field.

C.J. McCollum added 21 points for Portland while shooting 9-of-12 from the field, and Norman Powell put up 15 points. Those two, along with Lillard, were the only ones who hit double figures for the Trail Blazers. Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony — who dropped 18 points off the bench in Game 1 of the series — shot a combined 4-of-16 from the field.

Game 3 of the series is set for Thursday night in Portland.

Bucks ride 3-point barrage to Game 2 blowout of Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks apparently carry a grudge from last season's early playoff exit.

They unleashed a season's worth of frustrations in a half of basketball on Monday, riding a first-half 3-point barrage to a 132-98 win over the Miami Heat. With the win, the third-seeded Bucks take a 2-0 series lead over the franchise responsible for their unexpected second-round exit last postseason.

While Giannis Antetokounmpo led the scoring effort with 31 points, it was backup guard Bryn Forbes who led the 3-point onslaught, connecting on 6 of 9 shots from behind the arc in a 22-point effort. By halftime Milwaukee had hit 15 of 29 3-point attempts.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MAY 24:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks the baseball in the third quarter against Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat during Game Two of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum on May 24, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo largely sat out the 3-point onslaught, but still led the Bucks with 31 points. (Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

The Bucks slowed down after their first-half effort put them on pace to break the NBA's single game playoff 3-point record (25, '16 Cavs). They finished connecting on 22-of-53 (41.5%) 3-point attempts. But there was no need to keep up the pace after they built a 78-51 halftime lead.

The Heat were helpless from the opening tip on Monday as Milwaukee opened up a 15-2 lead early. There would be no game-shifting run from Miami, which never closed its deficit to single digits.

Jrue Holiday, difference maker

While Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton still play the lead roles in Milwaukee, this is not the same team that lost to the Heat as a No. 1 seed last postseason. The offseason addition of Jrue Holiday gives the Bucks a dynamic playmaker on both ends of the floor that they didn't have in 2020. His presence was felt on Monday to the tune of a game-best +37 in the plus/minus column. Holiday filled up the box score with 11 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

While Milwaukee rained threes, Heat shooters struggled to get anything going against Milwaukee's seventh-rated defense. Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Trevor Ariza and Goran Dragic combined combined to go 4 of 16 from behind the arc with a collective tally of 32 points. Jimmy Butler didn't add much either, totaling 10 points and four rebounds while countering Holiday's +37 with a game-worst -34 in the plus/minus column.

While some Heat fans may have salivated at the sight of a first-round rematch with the Bucks, it's probably time to temper those expectations. Following Monday's win, the Bucks sat at +800 among the top five favorites in a wide-open NBA championship race while the Heat joined the long shots at +5000.

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