The Denver Nuggets showed up to Portland for a match against the division rival Trail Blazers and barely came away with a win in a contested battle that at times felt like a playoff atmosphere. The Nuggets’ starters all scored in double figures led by Nikola Jokic, who’s 25 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists and clutch performance in the waning minutes of the game helped Denver stave off a potential game winning shot from Norman Powell.
Denver and Portland went back and forth throughout the game but the Nuggets nearly let the Blazers pull away on multiple occasions. What most comes to mind is the third and early fourth quarters. Denver led at the half, but completely checked out to start the third as Portland went on an 18-2 run at one point. Somehow, the bench lineup consisting of PJ Dozier, Shaq Harrison, Austin Rivers, JaMychal Green and Paul Millsap stopped the bleeding and kept Denver in it. The starters didn’t even come back in until there were just over five minutes in the fourth quarter, just in time for Jokic to do Jokic things and hold on for the win.
The individual performances were... interesting. Michael Porter Jr. had a perfect first quarter, shooting 8-for-8 and putting up 17 points in what looked like would be a huge night for him. Yet, he didn’t get any shots in the second quarter and missed the remaining four shots he took in the game. In the third quarter, he got called for a flagrant foul for kicking out on a three-point attempt, a ridiculous call given how many star players fish for free throws like that in today’s NBA but still technically a correct call nonetheless. MPJ is so good when he gets touches but it really seemed like the Nuggets strayed away from that after the first quarter, which is a real shame because he was lights out.
The aforementioned bench unit had both good and some pretty bad moments. The first stint in the second quarter was awful and raised questions as to why Malone wouldn’t put in JaVale McGee at center when Portland plays big with Kanter in the second unit. Still, this unit practically saved the game in the third and fourth. Dozier-Harrison-Rivers was a pretty gnarly defensive unit and it was good to see Austin make an immediate impact for Denver.
In the end, the Nuggets did just enough to not let Dame Time take over in the fourth. Lillard finished with 22 points but was just 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win, and when its over Jusuf Nurkic it’s always sweet.