The Trail Blazers suffered their fourth loss in five games by falling to the Nuggets 113-112. CJ McCollum led a late-game rally that brought Portland level after trailing by double-digits for long stretches. The McCollum-led comeback came up just shy, as his final attempt at the buzzer missed the mark. The Nuggets were led by Gary Harris, who produced 27 points after missing two games with an ankle injury. It was a game of extended scoring streaks for both teams, which made for a memorable matchup between these two division rivals.
Dominant from Distance
Usually when the Blazers allow their opponent to shoot over 60 percent in a quarter it involves a plethora of baskets in the paint. That was not the case for Portland in this contest. Buoyed by a near-perfect performance from beyond the arc, the Nuggets opened up a 12-point lead after the first period. Denver found open shooters in the corner with ease. Thanks to Juan Hernangomez and Harris, coach Mike Malone’s squad connected on 62.5 percent of their three-point attempts to start the game.
After setting fire to the nets against Orlando, Portland’s outside shooting cooled off. McCollum had a stellar night from inside the arc, but he failed to record a three-pointer for the first time in nearly a month.
The Blazers outscored the Nuggets 66-44 in the paint, but Denver finished the night with 8 more three-pointers.
Battle of the Bigs
Portland put together an impressive 9-0 run in the second quarter with both Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard on the floor. Paul Millsap was a nightmare for the Blazers’ defense for most of the night, but he was clearly bothered by Leonard’s size during that run.
Nikola Jokic was held to just two points in the second half, and Nurkic’s defense deserves a ton of credit. The big fella routinely stymied Jokic’s perimeter shots by closing out on him with purpose. In the paint, Nurkic prevented easy looks by being relentlessly physical with his former teammate.
The Nuggets made it a point to smother Lillard from the opening tip. After a rough start, the Blazers adapted by taking their offense inside. By effectively overcoming pressure on the perimeter, Lillard managed to tie Jokic for a game-high eight assists. Along with getting his teammates involved directly, Lillard deferred to a hot-shooting McCollum in the fourth quarter. McCollum’s final shot didn’t connect, but Portland wouldn’t have been close if it wasn’t for his 15-point fourth quarter.
The Chief Returns
Al-Farouq Aminu bounced back from a pair of rough outings to produce his first 20-point game of the season. He converted two of his four attempts from beyond the arc. Along with his outside scoring, Aminu completed a handful of successful drives to the basket.
It was a rough night for Portland’s wings. Nik Stauskas and Maurice Harkless combined for 24 minutes of action, and produced a meager 5 points. Evan Turner also endured a forgettable night. He committed four turnovers, and produced just two points.
Leonard provided some much-needed energy in his 26 minutes of work. He recorded 11 points, and his late-game pressure on Jokic forced the turnover that set the stage for the Blazers’ final shot.
Nurkic was engaged and physical against his former team. He finished with a solid 17-point, 11-rebound double-double.
The Blazers return to action on Sunday to face the Spurs in San Antonio.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com