After breaking out against the Grizzlies in a fantastic individual series to open the playoffs, Rui Hachimura was forced into a backseat role against the Warriors. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals made it abundantly clear that this will be another series where he’ll be valued.
His defensive work on Nikola Jokic late took the headlines, but his impact started well before then as he scored 17 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench. After the game, Hachimura spoke of his expectations for the series and how he’s prepared for it.
“I’m ready. I’m always ready,” Hachimura said. “Like I said, the last series was a little different. It wasn’t really — there wasn’t really an opportunity for me. I was ready for this moment, and I just have to — I’ve been watching the film for them, and yeah, I think it’s going to be big for me this series because, like I said, they are very big, and we need the size. I think it’s going to be a good one.”
Against a bigger Nuggets front court, Hachimura was always going to play a larger role in this series and have more of a positive impact. Between not just Jokic but Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Jeff Green, Denver has a number of players that Hachimura can match up against.
More importantly, it’s players he won’t have to chase around screens defensively, something he struggled with last series. And being able to use his size also is what made him at least a temporary option against Jokic in Game 1 as well.
While that particular match-up might change, his impact on the series likely won’t. There’s an argument to be made for him to enter the starting lineup, though that debate is still up in the air.
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