Jamal Murray got the first crack at Anfernee Simons and couldn’t contain him. Next it was Aaron Gordon, then Bruce Brown and then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
None of the aforementioned Nuggets could do anything with Portland’s precocious shooting guard, who turned into a flamethrower in the third quarter of Monday’s game, spearheading a humbling 135-110 rout over Denver.
The Trail Blazers remained undefeated, improving to 4-0 on the year. Following two big wins over the weekend, the Nuggets dropped to 2-2 with the slumping Lakers headed to Denver on Wednesday.
The last player to catch fire like Simons did against the Nuggets was Damian Lillard in the postseason two years ago. Apparently, he passed the torch to his protégé. Simons singed the nets for 22 points and six 3-pointers in the third quarter alone. He finished the night with 29 points on 11-of-17 from the field.
“We were embarrassing tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Altitude after the game, lamenting his team’s inability to guard one-on-one.
Malone looked bewildered and stunned at his team’s second-half effort. The Blazers turned in 80 points in the second half alone.
Simons’ eruption coincided with a lethargic Nuggets third quarter, one in which the Blazers deployed a zone that Denver couldn’t solve. It didn’t help that Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. both found themselves in foul trouble and were unable to combat the onslaught. Jokic was unusually passive, finishing with only four shots for nine points along with nine rebounds and nine assists.
Gordon, who had a team-high 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, was among the lone bright spots. Almost all of his damage came via easy, uncontested dunks. Porter had 18 points on four 3-pointers. Through the first four games, he’s knocked down 16 of his 32 3-point looks.
Bones Hyland managed 15 off the bench, including four 3-pointers. His range was one of the few answers the Nuggets found to contend with a zone defense.
Defensively, the wheels fell off amid Portland’s 44-point third quarter. If it wasn’t Simons from deep, then it was Lillard flexing his marksmanship. Together, Portland’s backcourt combined for 60 points and 11 3-pointers.
As a team, the Blazers shot nearly 58% from the field, gashing a Nuggets defense that had training camp designs on a top-five defense.