Damian Lillard hit a game-winner with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to defeat the Nuggets, a brutal ending to what was a wild and crazy game.
The Trail Blazers franchise player lead all players in scoring with 37 points, but none were bigger than his final two to send the fans that stayed in their seats at Pepsi Center until the final buzzer home dejected.
The Nuggets had all their starters finish with double-digit points, with Nikola Jokic leading the team with 23 points, 17 rebounds and four steals in 34 minutes. Wilson Chandler finished with 11 points, but missed two free throws with four seconds left in regulation that would have likely won the game.
The Trail Blazers opened the scoring with a Mason Plumlee flat-footed jumper, and didn’t trail the remainder of the first quarter. With the Nuggets pounding the ball into the post with Jusuf Nurkic, they were getting their points at the free throw line, finishing the quarter with 10 attempts as a team.
Will Barton missed a wide-open dunk, one that he’d definitely like to have back, but also made a great defensive play that’ll end up on the highlight reel.
Jameer Nelson came into the game and helped steady the ship on offense for the Nuggets. Wilson Chandler had a 3-pointer, and then Danilo Gallinari drew a foul on Evan Turner on a 3-pointer, and the Nuggets kept pace with the Trail Blazers second unit.
Lillard checked back into the game and things started getting out of hand. Nelson isn’t able to check the high-scoring guard, probably wouldn’t be able to if he went back in time to when he wasn’t slowed with age, and Lillard started pouring the ball into the hoop to increase Portland’s lead. Coach Malone called a timeout to lay into his players for their lack of execution on defense, and they responded by giving up an alley-oop to Plumlee.
Mudiay was able to get to the rim a few times for some Kobe assists, and in part to his efforts, Chandler was able to finish the half as the leading scorer for the Nuggets with 11, while Gallinari and Nurkic finished with 10 points each. Lillard doubled them up with 21 points in the first half, alone on his team in double-digits for points.
The Nuggets kept the deficit to eight points thanks to a great defensive play by Kenneth Faried, who slid over and denied Lillard at the rim at the end of the half.
The retirement ceremony for Dikembe Mutombo was special, with Mutombo taking a few minutes to thank the fans and the organization for their support and encouragement. The Nuggets presented Mutombo with a painting of the iconic moment where he laid on the floor gripping the ball as tears poured down his face after their upset of the Seattle Supersonics, and a $50,000 donation to his charity.
It was nice to see the Nuggets take a moment to honor one of the most iconic players in franchise history.
The Nuggets came out of the locker room looking like they threw down shots during the break, giving Lillard whatever he wanted and letting the Trail Blazers’ guard ramp the lead back to double digits.
The Nuggets defense tightened up and the team went on a 17 point run, giving themselves a 10 point lead at one point. Mudiay was finishing at the rim, Faried was getting defensive rebounds, and Jokic was making plays.
Dikembe Mutombo joined Scott Hastings and Scott Marlowe on the broadcast to start the fourth quarter, and Portland came out urgent to close the gap. Allen Crabbe made another jumper to bring the score to 90-85 Denver. Shortly after that, the power went out in Pepsi Center, and the officials had to pause the game while that was resolved.
Nurkic just took a backwards one-handed three now...yeah this has lasted a while— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) October 30, 2016
The delay lasted about 28 minutes, with Jameer Nelson knocking down a 3-pointer as soon as the game begins again. Lillard knocked down a jumper to cut the lead to four points, cracking the 30 point mark for the 50th time in his career.
The Nuggets responded by giving the ball to Nikola Jokic and letting their big man work. Jokic knocked down a jumper over Lillard after Portland switched, and then got a nice tip-in after Mudiay had his shot attempt blocked by Al-Farouq Aminu.
Unfortunately, the fun stopped for Jokic after he picked up his fifth foul and he was subbed out for Kenneth Faried. The Trail Blazers went high intensity on defense after the Nuggets hit 100 points, and made a run to cut the lead to two points with 15 seconds left after C.J. McCollum converted a layup and the following free throw.
Emmanuel Mudiay tried to lob a pass to Jokic, but it was way off target and the Trail Blazers got the ball with 12 seconds left. (WHERE WAS MIKE MILLER TO INBOUNDS THE BALL?) He redeemed himself with a clean steal on a Lillard drive, but Chandler missed both free throws to give Portland a chance with 2.9 seconds left.
In the ying-yang of life, the Trail Blazers get Damian Lillard a clean alley-oop to tie the game and send things to overtime when Mudiay gets caught on a screen near the 3-point line.
McCollum and Jokic traded baskets to start overtime, but then the Trail Blazers went on a 6-0 run to close out the game and ... well, when things are close, you know what time it is.
Dikembe Mutombo is a legend. He was marvelous during the halftime ceremony, thanking members of the organization and the fans for the role they played in his life. Dan Issel said it best when he said, “The game of basketball gave a lot to Dikembe, but Dikembe gave back even more to the game of basketball.” It is an honor for the Nuggets to have his jersey hanging from the rafters.
The Nuggets could be a top-5 team in the league in free throw attempts. With Nurkic banging away at opposing frontcourts from the opening tip, the Nuggets are going to be able to live at the free throw line. With Gallinari able to get to the line, Barton able to get to the line with his athleticism, and Mudiay able to get to the line with his size, there’s a real chance the Nuggets average over 30 attempts a game for the season. For context, the Rockets lead the league in free throw attempts last season with 29.4 attempts per game last season, according to NBA Stats.
Free throw attempts are huge - they give the Nuggets a chance to shoot without a defender contesting the shot, and they give the Nuggets an opportunity to set up their halfcourt defense.
There may be nights where the whistles don’t go their way, but that shouldn’t stop the Nuggets from attacking. If the Nuggets can develop a reputation in the first six weeks as a team that gets to the free throw line, it’ll stick with them for the rest of the season.
The Nuggets are deep. The Nuggets are able to play a 9-man rotation, and that’s without Darrell Arthur and Gary Harris. Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Arthur and once Harris healthy, Barton, will be huge for the team off the bench. With the Nuggets punishing other teams in the post and getting opponents in foul trouble, there is a huge opportunity for the Nuggets to grind out wins over the season.
The NBA season is a long season, and a lot of teams aren’t able to have a squad be at 100 percent for the entire year. Coach Malone will be able to spell his players throughout the season, and that should help them win close games in January and February.