Facundo Campazzo and the Denver Nuggets’ response to Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers goes to the basket against Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers goes to the basket against Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers goes to the basket against Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers goes to the basket against Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers exposed many weak points in the Denver Nuggets‘ defense in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series on Saturday. To no one’s surprise, Damian Lillard had himself yet another big-time playoff performance with 34 points and 13 assists, leading Portland to a 123-109 victory.

As talented as the Nuggets may be on offense, failing to contain Lillard and the rest of an experienced Blazers roster will make it tough for them to keep up going forward in the series. And because Portland is a team that revolves around their star floor general, the answer on defense all starts with Nuggets starting point guard Facundo Campazzo.

The Denver Nuggets struck gold in signing multiple-time EuroLeague champion Campazzo last offseason, who has made a solid case to be included on an All-Rookie team when award season comes around later in the playoffs.

Although it’s his first season in the NBA and he is still considered a rookie, he’s 30-years-old and his time playing professional basketball overseas spans over a decade. That experience is evident in his game. He has filled in nicely at the starting point guard role after a season-ending ACL injury  for star guard Jamal Murray back in early April. In the 65 games he played this year, he has made sure to let the league know that he is a threat that teams will have to account for.

Although he stands at 5-foot-10, there is a certain Patrick Beverley-esque edge to the Argentinian guard’s defense that is successful at disrupting opponents’ rhythms. He secured 17 steals over a recent five game stretch, exhibiting his ability to create possessions and gain respect from his offensive opponents.

Continuing to be the disruptive defender that he has been will be key if the Denver Nuggets want to advance to the second round of the playoffs because one of the league’s most lethal scorers in Lillard stands in their way.

The Nuggets performed well in the last leg of this year’s campaign despite Murray’s injury, winding up with the third seed in a crowded Western Conference. The Blazers have had their ups and downs this season, but the fact still remains that they have one of the most menacing backcourts in the league.

Lillard and C.J. McCollum reminded fans in Game 1 that they are both playoff-experienced and have the ability to score in every way imaginable, but it’s Lillard who presents the largest threat as one of the league’s top scorers and most clutch playoff performers.

Damian Lillard has nothing left to prove when it comes to his talent. He’s been an All-Star six times, made an All-NBA team five times, and has made multiple deep playoff runs with the Trail Blazers over his nine-year career.

He’s consistently one of the NBA’s most dangerous offensive threats and most accurate snipers from deep. There are not many defenders in the league that want to take on the challenge of guarding one of the most menacing offensive threats in the game, but Campazzo seems like he’s ready for what’s coming after getting a taste in the first matchup.

One of the most glaring disparities between Lillard and Campazzo is in the speed department. Because Lillard is so good from beyond the arc and inside the paint, it is tough for defenders to judge how close they should pressure such a multi-dimensional player like Dame D.O.L.L.A.  In Game 1, Campazzo struggled to stay glued to Lillard, who often penetrated his on-ball defense and either hit a jump shot, drew a foul, or dished it to one of his teammates for an easy bucket.

In past matchups with Lillard this season, Campazzo seemed to be able to hold his own defending the Portland point guard on the ball, keeping a hand in his face at all times. However, back cuts and give-and-go’s are some of Lillard’s most effective moves, and they often are successful on less-athletic defenders such as Campazzo.

One of the Blazers’ most common schemes in Game 1 involved a Jusuf Nurkic on-ball screen for Damian Lillard a few feet behind the top of the key. Nurkic was very successful in sealing off Campazzo and keeping him away from Lillard. This forces Nikola Jokic to make a decision on Damian Lillard, who is much quicker than the MVP candidate and has the green light to shoot from the second he comes off the screen.

Lillard can either shoot a deep, open three or opt to run past Jokic and either finish at the rim or kick it to the perimeter. The Nuggets’ communication was not there on Saturday, as it seemed there wasn’t a solid game plan for Lillard once he successfully got by his defender. Jokic struggled to read many of these situations, which led to many easy buckets for the Blazers.

If the Nuggets want to stop another Dame barrage in Game 2, Michael Malone is going to have to find a way to keep a defender in between the Portland All-Star and the basket while also not leaving enough space for him to take a pull up three.

Lillard only shot 40 percent from both the field in Game 1, but he made all nine of his attempts from the charity stripe. He only scored four points in the paint, but that number would likely be higher if he hadn’t been so focused on creating opportunities for his teammates.

His 13 assists helped six Portland players score in double figures, making it a tad more difficult from a Nuggets coaching standpoint to pinpoint problems in the defense and their solutions. If everyone on the other team is scoring, there’s probably more than one thing that needs to change.

Although the whole team has some work to do on defense, it will be Campazzo with his hands full this series. He isn’t the type of player to take a beating lying down, so I am expecting the Nuggets to come out in Game 2 with a damage control plan for Lillard and expecting Campazzo to have a more impactful presence on the defensive end of the court.

He will need to pressure Lillard and force him to make mistakes, something that didn’t happen much in Game 1. If that changes for Game 2, the Nuggets will have a good shot at making this a tied series.

Next. Why Facundo Campazzo deserves an All-Rookie selection. dark