Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
After pulling away early, the Portland Trail Blazers withstood every run from the Denver Nuggets, holding on late for a big victory without All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Blazers were led by JJ Hickson with 18 points and 18 rebounds, with support from Nicolas Batum (22 points, 6 rebounds), Wesley Matthews (20 points), and Luke Babbitt (14 points on 4-7 from three). Damian Lillard struggled with his shot all night, but still finished with a double-double (12 points, 10 assists).
First Half: Well, just as you expected, the Nuggets came out and... fell behind by double digits? What?
Wesley owned the first quarter for the Blazers, hitting multiple threes and keeping the Nuggets unexpectedly on their heels. At the other end, the Blazers prevented a big run, with a little help from the Nuggets themselves. Meanwhile, Hickson reminded Denver that he really, really likes rebounds. The Blazers led by 11 before the crowd was done with their pregame snacks, and every time the Nuggets tried to chip away at the lead, a timely score held them back.
The Blazers pushed the lead to 16 early in the second quarter, but that woke Denver enough to stop the bleeding. They used their bread-and-butter: The paint. They scored every point in the paint area, against the depleted Blazer front lines, to stay close. The second quarter was your classic back-and-forth. Denver pulled to within 6 at one point, but Portland batted them back, holding a 50-40 lead at halftime.
I called it in Dave's Pre Game analysis. Trap game for Denver.
Third quarter: After a quiet first half, Lillard opened the third with his first field goal, a jumper. The rest of the starters joined in, pushing the lead to 14, but Denver kept things from spiraling with more inside play. The Blazers spent 4 minutes of the third quarter scoring 1 point, but still led by 8. As Portland gave Denver multiple opportunities with bad passes and poor shot selection, the lead slowly shrank. The Nuggets scored nearly all their points in the paint, but struggled to make 50% of their free throws, which hurt their surge. Fittingly, both teams repeatedly clanked shots to close out the third, with the Blazers still leading by 8.
Claver looking a bit like the much less talented version of Rudy
Fourth quarter: Denver cut the lead to 4 within seconds, as the Blazers bench continued to struggle. The Gameday Thread crew grew increasingly impatient while awaiting the return of the starters. However, as if on cue, Ronnie Price's steal and dunk pushed the lead back to 9, and Denver called timeout.
Ronnie Price with a good play. Drink!
by Norsktroll (who has no chance of getting drunk)
Denver continued their assault on the Blazer three-point futility record, as Andre Miller missed their 17th straight three. However, Corey Brewer's steal and free throws cut the Blazer lead to 3 with six minutes left. In response, Lillard and Batum hit back to back three-pointers to add a little buffer again. It was gone within seconds, as Miller struck, and the Blazers called timeout with 3:36 left, only leading by three. Denver reached 0-19 from three, as Babbit nailed a three-pointer at the other end to push the lead to 9. However, within seconds, he fouled out of the game. Miller tried to bring the Nuggets back one last time, but Matthews calmly sank a three to end all doubt, sending the Blazers to a big home win without their All-Star. But not before the Nuggets broke the Blazers' record for three point shooting, missing their 22nd of the game out of 22 attempts.
Plus, Lillard helped cap the game with a nifty little dunk:
Stay tuned for Dave's analysis Ben's Media Row Report. The next game is Saturday night, at home against the Suns. -- Tim