With Joel Embiid sidelined for the week with knee soreness, the Blazers clearly targeted Philly’s backup frontcourt all afternoon long and the gameplan succeeded. The biggest beneficiary of JoJo’s absence was Portland’s 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic. He finished the game with an efficient, team-high 24 points on 9/13 shooting including 6/7 from the line, and 10 boards in essentially three quarters of play.
The Bosnian big man has been a model of consistency since a 2017 trade sent him packing from Denver to Portland. Since then, he has been averaging just about 15 points and 10 rebounds a game each year. The shooting splits have been similar too. His free throw shooting has taken the biggest leap, jumping from 63% to a career-high 75% this season.
After a back-and-forth first half today that had Portland up just three going into the break, Nurkic and the Blazers took complete control of the game in the third. Whether it was backdoor cuts or second and third chance opportunities, Philly had no answer for Portland’s second half adjustments. Nurkic scored 11 of his 24 points in the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
Nurkic’s impact didn’t only take place in the box score, but mentally too as it seemed that Ben Simmons was not a fan of Nurkic’s incessant trash talk.
Ben Simmons wasn’t having it with Nurkic: “You talk a lot of s–t for being ass” 😳 *NSFW* pic.twitter.com/Tw9tfXrD9l
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 23, 2019
Offensive rebounding was the biggest story-line of the day, with the Blazers bringing down 19 compared to Philly’s 7. Almost everyone on the pre-garbage time Blazers brought down at least one offensive board, with Jake Layman’s six leading the way. Nurkic and Enes Kanter each added three of their own.
Portland was effective on the defensive glass too, with each member of the starting lineup grabbing at least five rebounds. Jake Layman and Enes Kanter brought down 19 combined off the bench.
The frontcourt’s dominance on the glass allowed Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum some humble performances. Dame went for 17 points and eight assists while CJ finished with 15 points and four assists in a 130 point outing.
In such a bloodbath of a conference, every win matters and Nurkic’s performance against a surging new Sixers roster helped Portland leave Philly with a 130-115 win.