The Denver Nuggets faced their second straight game 7 of these NBA playoffs, this time against their division rival, the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets got out to a strong start but the Blazers pushed back and seized the lead before the Nuggets pushed back and the series came down to a one point Blazers lead with thirty seconds to go. C.J. McCollum was a monster all night long for the Blazers and he was the man down the stretch. He made the baskets that counted including in the final moments and led the Blazers to a game seven victory. Portland wins 100-96 and wins the series 4-3.
The Nuggets started the game working in the paint and the Blazers followed suit. Jokic led the scoring for Denver while McCollum carried the load for Portland. Joker had a pair of threes early which gave the Nuggets a small lead. Gary Harris also had a strong start to the game with three buckets inside. On the other end Denver was playing pretty good defense to maintain the lead. As the quarter passed the midway point both teams went into a bit of a cold streak. The Nuggets were stuck on a 20-13 lead. Paul Millsap bullied Zach Collins inside to finally get a basket. Murray drew a foul on a three point attempt and buried all three free throws to push the lead to double digits. The Blazers were still cold, with a minute to go they had only fifteen points in the game and trailed by fourteen. Jokic couldn’t knock down a three to close the quarter but it was still an outstanding start for the Nuggets with a twelve point lead after one.
Neither team started the second knocking down shots but the Nuggets were being aggressive to the hoop and getting to the line. The bench was able to grow the lead with Jokic off the court, something they hadn’t done all series. However, they still were struggling from the field and McCollum was hitting shots so when Jokic returned Denver’s lead was quickly reduced to thirteen. The Nuggets rattled off a quick 4-0 run though and forced a Blazers timeout. Portland responded with a 4-0 run of their own behind McCollum and Denver still led by thirteen at the half way point. The Nuggets started to struggle from the floor and meanwhile got into the penalty and gave Lillard multiple free throws. The Blazers had a 9-0 run going before Jokic finally got a shot in the lane to go. With the quarter winding down the refs had a heavy whistle, both sides were shooting a lot of free throws. Jokic and Murray started to use the two man game and had success before a Portland timeout slowed the momentum. Portland got a couple of buckets in the closing minutes but Lillard missed the punctuating deep three at the buzzer. He had just seven points at the half, yet the Nuggets led by just nine.
Collins and Rodney Hood opened the third quarter in the line up for the Blazers but Collins immediately picked up his fourth foul. The half opened with a fast pace. Both teams pushed off misses and attacked the basket. Neither team could buy a basket from three so the only points to be found were inside. McCollum was carrying Portland and keeping Denver’s lead right around seven. He was having an outstanding game meanwhile the Nuggets had gone cold from the floor completely, even missing their putbacks. C.J. was a one man wrecking crew and led a run to get Denver’s lead to three before a weird play happened where Hood got his knee caught up on a screen which led to a Nuggets and-one where Collins picked up his fifth foul. Portland kept pushing though and the Nuggets lead was slipping away. Harris got an and-one opportunity but missed the free throw. Jokic snagged the offensive rebound and then fed Murray for a dunk to swing the momentum but the Blazers had a similar sequence on the other end. The Blazers kept going to McCollum who kept getting past Harris. He nailed another layup inside the last minute to give Portland the lead. Morris went two for three from the free throw line with three seconds to go in the quarter to put the Nuggets up by one after three.
Coach Michael Malone opened the fourth with Jokic on the bench while the Blazers kept Lillard and McCollum on the floor. The bench was able to get him a two minute rest but even then Nikola checked in trailing by two points. Denver continued to struggle from three and the Blazers pushed the lead to five. The Nuggets went to Jokic in the post given Collins had five fouls. He was getting points but the Nuggets weren’t getting stops. Portland held the five point lead at the midway point of the quarter. The Nuggets continued to struggle from the floor, every single one of their jumpers were coming up short. After Millsap missed the sixteenth three in a row for the Nuggets they trailed by six points with four minutes to go. With two minutes to go the Nuggets got three buckets in a row and just like that they were down by just one point. McCollum got another bucket to push it to three before Murray hit a jumper to put the lead to one with 30 seconds to go. McCollum hit another shot and then the Blazers immediately fouled Jokic on the inbound. He made one of two and then Evan Turner hit both of his free throws to make the game a four point lead. Jokic missed a prayer three and the Blazers hang on for a 100-96 win.
Best matchup: Gary Harris vs C.J. McCollum
Both Harris and McCollum were big for their teams. McCollum in particular carried Portland throughout the game. Denver simply had no answer when it game to stopping him. McCollum was able to get by Harris repeatedly and was finishing at an incredible rate. To Gary’s credit he had a solid start to the game of his own and kept getting buckets for Denver when they needed them. Still, C.J. was unstoppable and he burned Gary pretty much every time down. It got so bad that coach Malone had to switch Torrey Craig onto McCollum. Even that didn’t matter though. Hats off the McCollum, he was outstanding the entire series.
Main thing I noticed: the three point shooting
Denver returned to the abysmal three point shooting that plagued them in game two. Things started off looking good when they knocked down two in a row, but proceeded to miss everything after that. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to lose their shooting touch and it was the biggest reason they weren’t able to take their early lead and carry it through the entire game. Ultimately the combination of poor shooting from distance and the inability to stop McCollum spelled doom for Denver.
Closing thought: be proud of this team
It stings to lose this way but that’s no reason to be down on this team. The jitters were there throughout the playoffs and they reared their head in the form of bad shooting. Tonight that happened again and the Nuggets weren’t able to get it done. Still, when we look back on this season we’re going to look back on it fondly. This team exceeded expectations throughout the season and had a great playoff run for the fourth youngest team in the NBA. There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about where this team is headed and this certainly is just the beginning of something special.