The Trail Blazers outlasted the Nuggets to secure an unforgettable quadruple-overtime victory on Friday. The two Northwest Division rivals exchanged haymakers throughout the first four quarters and treated the Moda Center crowd to four encore presentations of neck-and-neck competition before Portland eventually pulled away. For the second game in a row, it wasn’t Damian Lillard that carried the Blazers past the finish line. The former Weber State standout played a crucial role, but it was CJ McCollum’s masterful work that coupled with Rodney Hood’s late-game heroics that pushed Portland to a 2-1 series lead.
Exhale. Take a deep breath.
Operation Frustrate Jokic
The Blazers returned to their unpredictable defensive approach when facing Nikola Jokic in the first half. Enes Kanter led the attack, but it was the timely pressure from Portland’s supporting cast members that limited Jokic’s effectiveness early. The Nuggets’ big fella finished the first quarter with just as many turnovers as assists. Due to the sluggish start from Denver, the Blazers jumped out to an early six-point advantage.
Unfortunately for Portland, Jamal Murray tossed a wrench in coach Terry Stotts’ fine-tuned defense. With the Blazers focused on Jokic, Murray took advantage of wide open lanes to the rim. Lillard, McCollum and Hood did enough to keep the Blazers out in front, but it was Murray’s 12-point second quarter that opened the doors for the Nuggets’ offense prior to halftime.
Bend, Don’t Break
The Blazers utilized a balanced approach after the break. Jokic remained the first priority, but noticeable adjustments were made to clog the lane for Murray. Jokic responded to the open space on the perimeter with three-pointers of his own. The Nuggets’ leading man connected on four three-pointers in regulation, all of which came in the second half. Jokic’s shooting combined with the respect paid to Murray’s creativity to keep Denver right on Portland’s heels.
Opportunistic offense from Moe Harkless and Kanter kept the Blazers afloat in the third quarter as Lillard was forced to dictate the offense from beyond 35 feet. The fourth quarter featured a duel between two familiar faces. Both McCollum and Will Barton produced 10-point fourth quarters. McCollum, who routinely created space without much to show for it, finally found the bottom of the net with regularity. Barton’s final push was just as impressive. The former Blazers reserve was 0-4 from the field before finding his rhythm down the stretch.
Prior to to end of regulation, the Blazers narrowly missed a chance to avoid extra time with a win. Following a Barton finish, the ball found its way to an open Al-Farouq Aminu. The following three-point miss paved the way for the first quadruple-overtime playoff game in the NBA’s modern era.
McCollum Carries the Load, Hood Shines
The Blazers had several factors working in their favor heading into overtime. The Nuggets, still fresh off a seven-game series against the Spurs, looked primed to run out of gas. Jokic’s nimbleness gave way to plodding movements on defense and his passing lost its zip. Regardless of those hurdles, coach Mike Malone’s cast of youngsters stuck with the Blazers every step of the way.
Overtime periods one, two and three all featured a similar recipe. The Blazers relied on McCollum to generate nearly everything on offense. For the Nuggets, Jokic dictated the movements, but it was Paul Millsap that provided the clutch buckets. It appeared that Millsap delivered a dagger with 32 seconds remaining in the third overtime. But Lillard’s will to win was undeniable. With Gary Harris sidelined with fouls, Lillard went to work on Torrey Craig off the dribble. Dame single-handily erased the Nuggets’ four-point advantage with a pair of finishes at the rim that bookended a costly turnover from Murray.
The final overtime period belonged to Hood. Despite entering the game after sitting for nearly an hour of real time, the former Cavaliers wing hit the ground running. Murray, a frequent target of the Blazers, had no answer for Hood in one-on-one matchups. Hood cemented his place in Rip City lore with a flawlessly-executed three-pointer that turned the final moments into a free throw contest.
Jokic earned a trip to the charity stripe with 5.2 seconds remaining, but only converted one attempt. Leading by one, the Blazers turned to the steady hand of Seth Curry to push the lead to three points. Without a timeout to advance the ball, the Nuggets final pass landed in the hands of McCollum—sealing the victory for the Blazers.
McCollum’s 41-point outburst deserves the lion’s share of credit, but timely plays from Harkless and Hood shouldn’t be understated. Both wings finished with double-digit point totals and their buckets came in big moments. Harkless erased a five-point Nuggets lead late in the fourth quarter with pair of clutch shots.
Riding the wave of two successful games in Denver, Hood registered his best performance in Game 3. His surprise entrance in the fourth overtime gave the Blazers’ offense a much-needed boost and his 19 points trailed only Lillard and McCollum in the final box score. Hood’s success was the result of consistent and confident movements on offense.
Good Zach, Bad Zach
Lost in the thrilling finish was Zach Collins’ 18 minutes of up-and-down action. Collins yo-yo’d between expertly timed plays and rookie-level mistakes. His future is bright, but his decision making is still a work in progress. At his best, he contained Jokic. At his worst, he shifted the momentum to the Nuggets with costly turnovers and blown box outs.
Collins finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Kanter Goes the Distance
Kanter’s slog up and down the court was painful to watch at times. By the end of the first overtime, the Turkish big fella was in obvious pain. Despite his discomfort, Kanter continued to go toe-to-toe with Jokic. Kanter finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds in a whopping 56 minutes.
Plain and simple, it was a rough night for Aminu. Millsap successfully scored over him in the paint and he missed all five of his three-point attempts on offense. Aminu finished the game as the only Blazers starter in single-digits.
Lillard struggled to find his range and registered a 2-9 mark from beyond the arc. He made up for his poor shooting by creating eight assists. He still finished with 28 points, but it wasn’t always pretty.
The Blazers will look to add to their 2-1 lead on Sunday when they host the Nuggets for Game 4. Given the nature of Friday’s contest, both squads will have to dig deep on a short amount of rest.