The Portland Trail Blazers (4-3) arrived in Denver to face the Nuggets (2-4) and erase the memory of last night's fourth quarter collapse. They kept the game close, but couldn't finish the job, falling again in the final minutes.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (30 points, 7 assists) and CJ McCollum (16 points). The Blazers' starting bigs had nice nights with Meyers Leonard (11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Mason Plumlee (15 points, 7 rebounds) complimenting a nice night off the bench for Allen Crabbe (11 points).
Right out of the gate the Blazers looked to push, but both teams had early turnovers. After a nice block on mid-range jumper Plumlee got his pocket picked by Gallinari as he went up for a transition lay in. Both teams settled in after another sequence of turnovers and Denver began to attack the middle with Emmanuel Mudiay and JJ Hickson. But the Blazers answered with a mixture of mid-range jumpers and Dame drives. The Blazers looked to take advantage of the size and shooting of their big men as Dame set Meyers up with a few easy pick-and-pop foul line jumpers over Hickson. But the Nuggets continued to attack inside getting easy buckets at the rim or earning it from the line. Midway through the first the Blazers bench came in for their first shift and immediately Gallinari went after Moe Harkless scoring off post-ups and drives. The first Will "The Thrill" Barton sighting came at the two minute mark as he matched up against Allen Crabbe on the wing. The quarter closed with a CJ jumper off the iron, after a Denver three-in-the-key during their final possession, with the Blazers up four.
End of First: Portland 33, Memphis 29
The second quarter opened with Ed Davis putting in work down low on both sides of the floor, fighting for rebounds and earning foul shots. But Denver upped it's defense as the Blazers turned the ball over and went cold from the field. Tough Denver defense led to easy transition buckets and free throws for the Nuggets and Stotts called a time out to regroup after the Nuggets went up four with a little over eight left in the second quarter. Crabbe was fouled out of the timeout earning three free throws, making two, but the Nuggets continued their hot shooting. JJ Hickson drew back-to-back free throw attempts as the starters came back in for both teams, but the Blazers got a gift as he missed all four attempts. Late in the second the Blazers went on a 10-0 run as the Nuggets went cold from the field and Dame and Allen Crabbe hit back-to-back threes forcing the Nuggets to take a timeout. The Blazers closed the quarter with a couple of missed layups and Foye hit a three to bring Denver with in one at the break.
Halftime: Portland 58, Memphis 57
The Nuggets continued to find success in the pick-and-roll early in the third as Blazer bigs were caught between defending guard drives or stopping rolls to the basket. A couple of threes from Leonard and Aminu helped the Blazers keep a small cushion, but second chance buckets continued to be an issue as the active hands of Denver corralled rebounds or knocked the ball off Blazer bigs out of bounds. Scoring came from Plumlee drives and the occasional three but the Nuggets pulled ahead by one midway through the quarter of a Mudiay three. Portland looked uncharacteristically lost on a set play out of a timeout, but the Denver struggled from deep and things stayed close. Denver's dominance on the offensive boards reemerged towards the end of the quarter as Stotts furiously called a second quick timeout after Faried missed a foul line jumper badly and ripped the ball out of Vonleh's hands for an easy put back. The energy picked up after the timeout, but the Blazers couldn't buy a layup until Crabbe hit a jumper with just under two minutes left in the third Dame went supernova to end the quarter hitting a layup and then a deep and one three as Foye tried to take the foul-to-give and the Blazers ended the quarter where they started, up one.
End of Third: Portland 80, Memphis 79
Denver started the fourth hot as the offense stalled with CJ at the point and Stotts was forced to call an early timeout after the Nuggets went up six. CJ came out of the timeout guns blazing, making seven straight points and the Nuggets took a timeout to regroup after a CJ banked three. After a back-and-forth defensive battle in the middle of the fourth Will Barton caught fire for five quick points and Denver took a six point lead until Plumlee calmed things down by hitting two consecutive free throws. Lillard hit a pair of free throws and Al-Farouq "The Chief" Aminu picked Gallinari's pocket at the top of the arc and finished with an authoritative dunk as Denver called a timeout and the Blazers pulled even at 92 a piece. Back came the Nuggets with Will Barton, but a Leonard mid-range jumper and circus drive by McCollum kept things close with under three minutes to play. Denver responded by slashing in deep and earning foul shots late as Hickson finally ended his slump by hitting a pair of free throws. Down five with a minute and half to play Meyers was called for a questionable offensive foul on a made bucket robbing the Blazers of a three point opportunity. With over a minute to play CJ hit an open three to pull within one, but Emmanuel Mudiay responded an ice cold mid-range jumper to push the lead to four. Dame went inside out of a timeout earning a trip to the line and once again bringing Portland to within two. Denver responded with a wild Hickson cut to the basket resulting in foul shots as Leonard fouls out. Hickson nailed both shots, but Lillard missed an open three with 30 seconds left. Fortunately for the Blazers Denver knocked the ball out of bounds giving Portland another chance down four. Aminu scored on a wild out of bounds play and the Blazers were forced to foul Mudiay who nails both shots. Out of time outs the Blazers are forced to run the length of the court, which ends with a quick Dame layup that is blocked by Faried. The clock ticked down as there was a mad scramble for the ball as two more Portland opportunities came up short and the game ended with another loss for the Blazers.
The Blazers return to Portland for a Wednesday match-up against LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.