The Denver Nuggets gutted out an incredible performance tonight to stay alive in the playoff race, winning against the Portland Trail Blazers 88-82 in a game that was uglier than the score indicates. Nikola Jokic didn’t shoot well, but he had an incredible performance, putting up 15 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, and a block to shoulder the load for a Denver team that desperately needed it. Will Barton shouldered the scoring load with 22 points, and he and Jamal Murray combined to hold Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to just 41 points on 13/40 from the field. Hats off to you, Nuggets guards for matching the Blazers’ intensity.
The Nuggets came out with the starting five that won them the previous five games in Murray, Barton, Chandler Millsap, and Jokic, while the Blazers started their normal five in Lillard, McCollum, Turner, Aminu, and Nurkic. Denver caught fire early, with Murray and Barton combining for 14 of Denver’s first 16 points, prompting an early timeout by Portland. Struggles on the defensive glass continued to plague Denver though, as Nurkic made his presence known with three early offensive rebounds, helping the Blazers recover.
Gary Harris made his return to the Nuggets rotation with 3:44 in the first quarter, and he made his first shot attempt at around the 2:00 mark, a dribble handoff jumper with Jokic as the assist man (good to have you back, Gary). The Blazers and Nuggets fought back and forth here with a lull in the offensive action to end the quarter. Devin Harris made some nice plays to create offense, though he didn’t make his shots. Denver’s defense really held together, mostly on the backs of Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, who contested a bunch of shots to begin things. Denver led 28-23 after the first quarter.
Things did not go so well for Denver to start the second quarter. With Jokic on the floor and Lillard off, this was the time for Jokic to extend their lead, and instead, poor decisions by Denver, missed shots, and an inability to contest shots put Denver in a hole, 33-32 Blazers. The Nuggets eventually battled back, aided by putting Nurkic on the bench with three fouls. Still, something seemed off with Denver, as the decisions weren’t crisp, the rotations weren’t always right, and the defensive rebounding was horrendous. Through the first half, the Blazers accumulated 11 offensive rebounds on their 31 first half misses, and it helped Portland to a 49-42 lead at halftime, ending on a Lillard layup.
Great hesitation gallop and dig the finish with the reverse from Dame pic.twitter.com/wiD0qTe6We— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 10, 2018
Again, 11 offensive rebounds for the opposition in one half just isn’t going to cut it in a do-or-die game.
Denver's DREB% rank by month:— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) April 10, 2018
Not sure what happened but their rebounding went to hell.
The third quarter didn’t exactly start well either. An additional three offensive rebounds for the Blazers and some manhandling of Jokic by Jusuf Nurkic increased the lead to 10 before Michael Malone called another timeout. Denver truly looked dead in the water at this point, as it looked like the season was slipping away. After a failed Jamal Murray dunk, Malone got himself a technical foul fighting for his player.
That was a rare really effective tech from Malone. It stopped a runout where POR had numbers, and made his point to the ref. Then Dame missed the FT to add to the benefit.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) April 10, 2018
It truly helped Denver, as it woke up the crowd and got the Nuggets going, who quickly cut the deficit to seven to force a Portland timeout with 4:55 left in the third quarter. After, Denver continued to chip away at the lead, playing hard on both ends, making some hustle plays, and forcing the Blazers into a bunch of tough shots. Will Barton was huge in this segment, as was Mason Plumlee. Both played excellent defense and made enough plays on offense to cut the Blazers’ lead to just three points, 69-66, to end the third quarter.
To begin the fourth quarter, both teams started off slowly, but Devin Harris came to play. Five quick points for him to begin the fourth put the Nuggets up by two. The Blazers came back though, tying up the game at 75 apiece. This was when Nikola Jokic came alive for Denver. His defense to end this game was excellent, and he had some clutch rebounds and a three-pointer. Both teams shot the air out of the ball clanking it against the backboard though.
To close the game, the Nuggets started up by one, 78-77 with 3:08 left. Barton made a tough layup, the Blazers missed. Jokic hit a cutting Murray for a layup. The Blazers missed. Barton had a tough turnover and the Blazers hit an and-1, but Lillard missed the free throw to keep the lead at three. Jokic then turned the ball over on a questionable replay overturn by the refs.
Jusuf Nurkic got fouled off the ball by Plumlee down three, but he made just one of two. After the Nuggets rebounded the ball, Murray made a great play to get fouled at the rim, sinking two free throws to put Denver up four with 30 seconds left.
The Nuggets forced Lillard into a miss, and after rebounding, the Nuggets played the free throw game, with Gary Harris and Will Barton going 4/4 from the line. Denver got the win they needed, prevailing over the Blazers in an ugly 88-82 victory!
Takeaways...eh, who the hell cares?! THE NUGGETS ARE STILL IN IT!
THIS GUY WAS GREAT!
THIS GUY WAS GOOD BUT NOT QUITE ENOUGH.
BUT NIKOLA JOKIC WAS EXCELLENT.
Like the Minnesota game, Jokic's shot just wasn't there. But he gets his 10th triple-double and played an incredible 4h quarter. 15-20-11-2-1 and (of course) a team-high +18.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) April 10, 2018
With six wins in a row, the Nuggets have suddenly become the grittiest, most clutch team in the NBA. They will head to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves in the season finale in what is likely a win-or-go-home contest.
Honestly though, Nuggets fans should be rejoicing. The ability of this Nuggets team to step up to the plate and deliver has been excellent. It’s hard to quantify just how different last year’s team would have reacted to this moment. Denver wilted under pressure, and while guys didn’t necessarily shoot well, they just did what they had to do to win.
You’re next Minnesota.