The Denver Nuggets had the chance to close the series tonight, and for a hot minute it looked like they would with ease.

After a dominant first quarter, however, Denver’s poor bench play in the opening minutes of the second enabled the Trail Blazers to regain confidence, which carried Portland to a 119-108 Game 6 victory.

The Nuggets were up 36-26 at the 11:38 mark of the second. Not even two minutes later, that lead was down to one, and soon after that Portland took the lead and never really looked back. Denver was outscored 93-74 in final three quarters, and though they kept it close at times, the Blazers always had an answer.

Damian Lillard finally had one of his “Dame Time” type games. He finished with 32 points and 17 in the third quarter alone, pulling up from near the logo at times. His backcourt partner was phenomenal as well. McCollum, Portland’s most consistent player this series, had a cool 30.

But the real damage was done on the bench, where Portland destroyed Denver 42-13. Rodney Hood, who has miraculously salvaged his career in this series alone, scored 25 points and made it look easy by hitting some very timely threes. No one in a Nuggets uniform could stop him. Zach Collins also had a nice game and was effective on both ends of the floor; he finished with 14 points of his own along with 5 blocks.

Nikola Jokic was the lone bright spot for Denver: 29, 12 and 8. Jamal Murray had 24 but was largely ineffective and inefficient. When no one else gets going for the Nuggets, this is often the result. In a potential elimination game in the playoffs, it’s frustrating.

But the series isn’t over. Game 7 is on Sunday.

Three Takeaways

The bench was ass. Sorry, but that’s the only way to describe it. And not much more needs to be said. Will Barton was a huge negative and nearly got himself thrown out in an altercation with Seth Curry in the fourth quarter. Mason Plumlee is still a shell of the positive glimpses he showed in the regular season. Malik Beasley was 0-8. Monte Morris didn’t even play three minutes.

The rest of the starters were not great either. I thought the Blazers did a fine job of making things tough for the rest of Denver’s starters. The Nuggets have feasted in the paint this entire series, but Portland made it a point to push guys like Millsap and Jokic out of the post. For comparison, Denver scored 66 points in the paint in Game 5. Tonight? Just 32. As a result, the Nuggets ended up settling for far too many jump shots that they simply didn’t hit.

Murray only shot 7-20 and struggled to get in rhythm, a death spell for him. Millsap had 17 points but had to work hard for them (8 came at the line), and outside the first quarter never had a stint where he just came in and dominated. Gary Harris had some shots fall, but on the defensive end got burned more than usual.

Game 7 once again. Tonight was not fun by any means, but we’re right back at it. It’s been a fun and close series; it’s only fitting to go back to Game 7. And with home court advantage in their pocket, the Nuggets have a good opportunity to ante up with house money once again.

The Blazers made some good adjustments tonight and had a lot of favorable things fall their way. For the most part, Denver was right in the game. It hasn’t been talked about enough, but Malone has been great at countering as well. The final act of this seven game chess match is on Sunday. If the Nuggets can shoot and execute, it’s gonna be a good day.