Well, that was an extremely fun series with an extremely disappointing ending.
After the Denver Nuggets won the first round of the NBA playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs in 7 games, they followed that up with another 7-game series, this time against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Just like the first round, it was an up-and-down series with momentum swinging back-and-forth often. Unfortunately, this time the Nuggets came up short due to a heroic performance by CJ McCollum and a big-time struggle from the field for the players in their last game of the season.
While the season couldn’t have ended in a more heartbreaking fashion, fans should be very optimistic about the future for this young team. It would have been amazing if the Nuggets went from missing the playoffs by one game to advancing to the Western Conference Finals in such a short timespan, but we’ll have to settle for a second round appearance and the belief that this team will have plenty more opportunities to make a run for the championship in the near future.
Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows that this series brought:
Series record: 3-4, Nuggets lose :(
Game of the Series: Game 3, 140-137
Prior to this series starting, I would have never thought I could pick a game in which the Nuggets lost to highlight in this recap. That was before the Nuggets battled in a quadruple overtime game in Portland. What is now being considered the best game of the postseason so far (and honestly, that may remain the case by the time the postseason is over), the Nuggets and Blazers both left it all out on the court in Game 3. Nikola Jokic played an extraordinary amount of minutes (65!!!) and helped carry the team to each overtime. There were multiple times in the game where it looked like one team was going to pull away, but each time that happened, the other team fought right back to continue the contest. At some points, it felt as though the game was just never going to end. Alas, McCollum and Rodney Hood made sure that was not the case, as both hit big shots for the Blazers to finally allow their team to pull away.
While it certainly felt as though the winner of this game would be the favorites to win the series going forward, this game did not ultimately end up being the determining factor. Game 6 and Game 7 ultimately proved to be the games that the Nuggets should look back on and think, “If only.” Still, the Nuggets participated in the first quadruple overtime game in the playoffs since 1953, and that will be a very valuable experience for this young team and one that fans will remember for a long time.
Highlight of the Series: Gary Harris with the insane layup in Game 1
Paul Millsap described it as a top-five layup of all time. While he is certainly a tad biased in this case, you would be hard-pressed to find many layups more impressive than the one Gary Harris had in Game 1 of this series. There’s not much else to say about this play, but if you haven’t watched this at least 50 times, what have you been doing?
Player of the Series: Nikola Jokic
While the result of this series is extremely disappointing for fans, we should be able to sleep well knowing that Nikola Jokic (hopefully) put an end to all of the doubts that existed throughout this season about whether or not he’s a true superstar. He’s carried this team to new heights all season long, and this second round was no different. This team could not survive long stretches with him on the bench, and that’s because not only is he their best player by far, but he’s also the glue that holds the pieces in place. Jokic has been surpassing expectations all season long, and there’s no better example of that then when he was able to lead the Nuggets to a Game 4 victory despite playing a ridiculous amount of minutes less than 48 hours prior. The Nuggets ended their season in heartbreak fashion, but with Jokic leading the way, the future could not look brighter for this squad.
Story of the Series: The Nuggets lose on their home court in Game 7
The confidence was high in the city of Denver prior to Game 7. Sure, it’s always scary playing against a team with stars that can single-handedly take over a game that way Damian Lillard and McCollum can. Despite that, however, the Nuggets had just come off of a Game 7 win in the first round against the Spurs. There was no reason to believe the Nuggets would falter in this game. However, this time it was not to be for the home team, as the Blazers came back from 17 points down in the first half to pull away in the closing minutes of this game. The Nuggets could not get their shots to fall, going 2-19 from three-point range. They were not able to overcome such a poor shooting performance this time, as the Blazers will be advancing to the Western Conference finals in the Nuggets’ place.
Surprise of the Series: Damian Lillard was not the best Trail Blazer in the second round
Damian Lillard was the talk of the nation after ending the first round on a 37-foot buzzer beater against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rightfully so, he suddenly became the player that Nuggets’ fans most feared headed into their matchup with them in the second round. While Lillard did not have a bad series by any means, McCollum ended up having by far the better series. McCollum averaged 26.4 points, 3 assists, and 6 rebounds in the second round. Despite having two of the Nuggets’ best defenders on him most of the time throughout this series (Gary Harris and Torrey Craig), McCollum was always able to make his imprint on the game when his team needed him the most. This was never more the case than in Game 7 when Lillard struggled from the field. McCollum buried the Nuggets with his mid-range jumper all series long, and it was this shot that ultimately sent the Nuggets home in the second round.