The Denver Nuggets came into tonight looking to do something that hadn’t been done in nearly a decade: win the Northwest Division. With the Portland Trail Blazers in town a victory secured the title for the Nuggets. After a back and forth affair the Nuggets emerged victorious through the play of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. The Nuggets limited the damage by Blazers superstar Damian Lillard and got twenty plus point efforts from three starters on the way to a 199-110 win.
Enes Kanter opened the game working inside on Jokic and found some early success but Jokic was able to match the effort on the other end. The Blazers were red hot out of the gate and some of that was due to some questionable defense. That helped them get out to an early lead but luckily Will Barton was able to get his game going enough to keep the Nuggets within striking distance. The Nuggets were lacking energy throughout the first quarter though. Their defense continued to be questionable and there was very little in the way of attacking the basket. On multiple possessions Denver inexplicably left Rodney Hood wide open, he went 4-5 from the field in the quarter. Despite the questionable play the Nuggets were still hanging on, trailing by seven after one.
The Nuggets opened the second quarter strong with Murray getting an alley-oop bucket and Millsap working his way to the free throw line. Malik Beasley buried a three to cap a 13-2 run going back to the first quarter and tied the game at 31. Evan Turner, who was coming off back to back triple doubles, converted a couple of baskets for the Blazers to offset Millsap who was dominating and then Jake Layman started knocking down threes. The starters checked back in with around four minutes to go and the lead changing almost every possession. Jokic kept the Nuggets in front by a slim margin with the half winding down and on the other end Damian Lillard, who had yet to score, was oddly passive and his teammates seemed confused, first fumbling a ball away then getting a shot clock violation. He finally got on the board with a layup at the end of the half but Denver had seized the lead and were up 56-50.
The second half opened up with a good old fashioned point guard duel between Murray and Lillard. Millsap was still hot out of the break as well and Denver kept their lead around a half dozen with the quarter nearing the midway point. Jokic checked out and after that the Nuggets offense stalled, they had trouble creating anything in the way of a good look. The Blazers were able to use that to their advantage and chip away at Denver’s lead. Portland got it within three before Jokic checked back in and then shortly thereafter regained the lead on the back of a 12-2 run. The Blazers warmed up from outside and the ball wasn’t bouncing Denver’s way (literally in some cases) with the quarter drawing to a close. The Nuggets got on a run in the final minutes, highlighted by a huge alley-oop from Beasley to Torrey Craig, but a couple of timely buckets by the Blazers kept them in front by three after three.
Malik Beasley to Torrey Craig for the "mile-high" connection! pic.twitter.com/OlCTHBreNy— ESPN (@espn) April 6, 2019
Jokic came out firing in the fourth quarter, first with a soft layup and then with a three from the top of the key. That got some juice going for the Nuggets and they rattled off a quick 6-0 run to take the lead and force a Portland timeout. Denver continued to force the issue, led by Jokic and extended their run to 11-0 before the Blazers finally got a basket. The Blazers started to hit some shots but the Nuggets had it all working on their end, Jokic was on fire and time was becoming a factor. The Blazers took a timeout and then came out refusing to go away, they got a quick five points to pull within three with just about three minutes to go. The Nuggets kept fighting as well, Murray got a bucket, then Craig got one on a follow. After Craig’s bucket the Blazers were on life support. Murray and Gary Harris had a shot to put Portland a way but couldn’t do it. At the twelve second mark with Portland down by four Craig, who had been outstanding all night long, sealed the deal by burying a three at the end of the shot clock. Nuggets win and secure their first division title since 2010.