Michael Porter Jr. tried like heck to get Game 1 out of his head.
But the scar tissue from a night to forget wouldn’t leave: A 2-for-9 showing from the floor, 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, five points, two turnovers — and, worse yet, a 23-point Nuggets shellacking at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Me, personally, it really, really bothered me,” the Nuggets’ rookie forward recalled in advance of Monday night’s Game 3 between Denver and Los Angeles in the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals. “I was up in my room for a while, just thinking of all the stuff I could’ve done better.
“None of us came with the right energy. And the Clippers are a really, really talented team. So with that talent (and) them outworking us, it’s going to get ugly. We have to make sure that every single night, we’re playing as hard as we can and battling every night to make it a series.”
The Nuggets rallied with vigor and vinegar in Game 2 late Saturday, especially on the defensive end — exploding to a 44-25 first-quarter lead and holding on for a 110-101 victory to even the series.
“Coming off that first game, we (also) saw what they were about, we saw how physical they were,” said Porter, who scored 11 points and picked up seven boards off the bench to help pace one of Denver’s most complete team efforts inside the bubble. “And they’re a really good team, so we knew that during that (day) off, we had to get our minds right and be ready to go to war that second game. And I was really proud of the team, the way that everybody contributed and played with high energy and played intense.”
That intensity hit a wall midway through the first half in Game 1, slowed by the short turnaround after an exhausting Game 7 win over Utah, helping the Clippers walk away with the spoils. Before Game 2, the Nuggets knew how to swerve around that wall once it came, kicking it up a notch in terms of effort and several notches when it came to their on-court communication.
“Communication is a big way to get yourself involved in the game,” Porter said. “I’m just trying to do better at just being in communication with my teammates out there and not being silent … Especially when things aren’t going great on the court, as a team, we tend to get a little quiet. We need everybody to just step up and just use their voices and just make sure that we’re on the same page at all times.”
Porter, meanwhile, has been getting a better handle on coach Michael Malone’s script, and where he fits in it, with each passing appearance.
Consider: Over his first four playoffs appearances, during which Utah stormed to a 3-1 first-round series lead, the rookie posted an average defensive rating of 133.3 — in layman’s terms, that’s 133 points allowed individually per every 100 possessions on the court.
In Games 5-7 against the Jazz and in Games 1 and 2 against the Clippers, a stretch that saw the Nuggets win four out of five, Porter posted an average defensive rating of 100.7. Perspective: MPJ’s regular-season defensive rating was 109, while Gary Harris and Torrey Craig posted ratings of 113 and 112, respectively.
“Every game, I feel like I’m just getting a better idea of what we want to do defensively,” Porter said. “I’ve just got to make sure the effort’s there every night.”
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