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Inside the second-half adjustment that shut down Damian Lillard

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 18, 2023

Damian Lillard cooked the Nuggets throughout Tuesday night’s first half. Lillard tallied 30 points and shot 6-9 from 3-point range over the game’s first two quarters. He was having his way with Denver’s defense and got whatever he wanted.

The Nuggets didn’t make life too difficult for Lillard either. He was getting easy, open catch-and-shoot 3s. And wasn’t even working that hard for them.

But a defensive adjustment from the Nuggets’ coaching staff at halftime helped put the clamps on Lillard. It led to a 122-113 Nuggets win over the Blazers and Denver’s seventh-straight victory.

The Nuggets moved Jamal Murray off Lillard and switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto him. Then Denver began to force the ball out of Lillard’s hands. The Nuggets put two defenders on the ball whenever Lillard caught it in a dangerous spot and made Portland’s role players make plays. It worked.

Lillard shot 6-9 from 3-point range in the first half. He went 0-3 from beyond the arc in the second. Denver held Portland to just 46 points on 43.2% shooting (2-13 from 3) after halftime.

Watch Caldwell-Pope hang with Lillard off the ball, execute the switch perfectly and force the turnover.

Nikola Jokic does a great job of cutting off Lillard’s angle toward the sideline here on the catch. Then Caldwell-Pope traps and forces the ball out of his hands. Caldwell-Pope never lets Lillard get the ball back either. What a sequence from him on this possession.

Zeke Nnaji wasn’t able to close Lillard’s driving lane off completely here, but he’s athletic enough to stay with him and force a pass. Great rotations and recoveries by Denver’s backside defenders, Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon here too.

This is another great example of Denver forcing the ball out of Lillard’s hands at the 3-point line. Bruce Brown isn’t going to let Lillard get this one back either. Look at him face-guard Lillard near the logo.

Caldwell-Pope is such a quick, shifty and smart off-ball defender. He’s able to recover to Lillard in the corner after getting hung up on a screen. Then Jokic does a great job of stepping out to contest Lillard’s 3.

Here’s another great example of Jokic and Calwell-Pope closing off Lillard’s airspace on the catch and forcing the ball out of his hands. Caldwell-Pope was a beast defensively in the second half. He rightfully won the Nuggets’ Defensive Player of the Game chain for his efforts.

The Nuggets frustrated and annoyed Lillard in the second half. This defensive adjustment was the reason why. Portland can really only win one way, and it’s how they were able to put up 67 points in the first half. But force the Blazers out of their comfort zone and they’re fairly inept on nights like this.

Jokic was unreal in this win too. He finished with 36 points on 13-14 shooting (he went 12-12 from two-point range, this was his one missed shot), 12 rebounds and 10 assists. The Nuggets are now 13-0 when Jokic registers a triple-double. Murray got Denver off on the right foot in the first quarter and scored the Nuggets’ first nine points of the game. Michael Porter Jr. was also great, tallying 23 points on a clean 9-13 shooting. How Porter has fit into his role has been one of the top storylines of the season. Gordon recorded 11 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. Nnaji added six offensive rebounds off the bench.

The Nuggets may not have beaten the Blazers without their key second-half defensive adjustment, however. Credit David Adelman and his staff, who were coaching without Michael Malone tonight (COVID protocols).

The result was a seventh-straight win. The Nuggets continue to roll.


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