Enes Kanter didn’t even think about his sore left shoulder as he soared in for a first-quarter dunk and hung from the rim with his left hand.
Then, he grimaced and briefly grabbed the shoulder.
On the bench soon after, Kanter pointed to his head as if to say he needed to be more cautious with his injury.
Sore shoulder and all, Kanter finished with 26 points in a 121-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. All things considered he held up just fine.
“I don’t have another choice,” Kanter said. “I don’t even try to think about my shoulder. It’s the playoffs. Just got to go out there and play hard and play smart.”
Kanter suffered the shoulder injury in the Trail Blazers’ deciding Game 5 win over Oklahoma City last Tuesday. He was questionable heading into the series opener against Denver, but looked sharp early as he scored 10 of his points in the first quarter. That dunk, though, got everyone’s attention, especially the look on his face after. Then again, it was so instinctual — clear path, dunk it, just like usual.
“I told him to just dunk it with his right hand, rather than put two on it,” Meyers Leonard said.
Now more treatment awaits as he and the Blazers try to rebound in Game 2 on Wednesday.
“Just keep playing through it,” Kanter said. “Pain killers, injections, anything I can do to help my teammates. Doesn’t matter. One arm, two arm, I’m going to go out there and help my teammates win.”
Kanter hit 11 of 14 shots and all four free throws. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
“Enes was terrific,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He was very efficient, finished around the basket, playing through the shoulder injury. I couldn’t have asked for anymore from him.”
The Blazers struggled to stop Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, who scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Kanter tried to slow him down, but simply couldn’t. No one could for the Blazers. The player nicknamed The Joker was unstoppable.
“He kind of got what he wanted all night,” said forward Maurice Harkless, who fouled out with just over three minutes remaining. “We’ve just got to do a good job of making it tough on him, whether it’s being physical or whatever it is. We’ve got to make it harder for him.”
Kanter was waived by the New York Knicks following the trade deadline and signed by the Blazers just before the All-Star break as a backup to starter Jusuf Nurkic. But Kanter became an even more valuable asset for Portland when Nurkic broke his leg in an overtime victory at home over the Brooklyn Nets on March 25.