The Nuggets handed the Trail Blazers their biggest loss of the 2019 NBA Playoffs with a 124-98 drubbing in Game 5. A tightly contested first quarter quickly gave way to a double-digit margin at halftime and Denver never looked back from there. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap combined for 67 points in the lopsided win. For the Blazers, Lillard’s 22 points couldn’t hold a candle to the Nuggets’ explosive attack. It was a truly forgettable performance from Portland in a series that has produced a handful of memorable finishes.
Just outside of Jokic’s spotlight is the steady play of Millsap. The Blazers switched up their approach to the Nuggets’ post pairing by swapping Al-Farouq Aminu and Enes Kanter’s assignments. Kanter, a center better suited to guard traditional post players, found himself across from Millsap early. Regardless of the change, Millsap got to his spots and converted with ease. He shot over Kanter in the post and forced the Turkish big man to stay alert on the perimeter. Even if he missed, Jokic was firmly planted in the paint against Aminu to gobble up rebounds.
Defensively, it was more of the same from Millsap. With Aminu struggling once again, the former Hawks big man crowded the paint to prevent the Blazers’ backcourt from getting inside. Down by 25 in the third quarter, coach Terry Stotts finally caved and put Meyers Leonard into the game.
Jokic and Millsap combined to go 19-35 from the field.
Murray has stolen the show in a series that features both Lillard and CJ McCollum on the opposite side. The former Kentucky standout put Game 4 out of reach with his free throw shooting and he buried the Blazers with a 11-point outburst in the second quarter. He is a liability on defense, but his offense has more than made up for it. Murray did an excellent job creating space for himself and Jokic on pick-and-roll sets and buried three-pointers as Portland struggled to take the lid off the basket on the other end.
Lillard’s exploits in the first round captured the attention of the NBA universe, but Murray’s coming out party will also garner plenty of praise.
The Blazers have struggled to manufacture easy buckets throughout this series, but the contrast in difficulty was on full display in Game 5. Portland’s backcourt routinely navigated through traffic to take tough-but-manageable shots. On the other end, the Nuggets found open shooters and attempted shots in high-percentage areas. When the Blazers are clicking, they can survive extended exchanges like this. When they are off, they fall behind by double-digits quickly.
The Nuggets’ transition offense compounded the Blazers’ struggles once the action opened up. Denver feasted on the break with multiple-man advantages as Portland’s defenders failed to recover.
Big Lead, Relaxed Play
After extending the lead to double-digits, Denver’s offense found its regular season groove. At halftime, the Nuggets had four players in double-digits. Meanwhile, the Blazers found themselves bobbing in a pit of quicksand. Portland’s bench scoring looked comparable thanks to an extended run in a blowout loss, but Denver’s supporting cast used the energy of the Pepsi Center to help protect home-court advantage. Malik Beasley and Will Barton, from an energy and production standpoint, have been a thorn in the Blazers’ side.
Outside of the reserves, it is important to note that the Blazers’ non-Lillard starters only outscored Lillard himself 27-22.
Lillard produced 22 points in 32 minutes of action. It appeared that he might have things going after nine-point outburst in the first quarter, but Lillard failed to recapture the success of his first shift. He went 2-5 from the free throw line and 2-9 from beyond the arc.
McCollum endured a 5-16 shooting night on Tuesday. The Nuggets did an excellent job of bothering the majority of his attempts. McCollum recorded 12 points in 29 minutes.
Zach Collins provided 14 points and some theatrics after getting into it with Jokic in the fourth quarter. Game 5’s loss marked the second time Collins produced a double-digit scoring night in the second round.
Rodney Hood’s efficient 14-point outing might be the lone bright spot for the Blazers. He was assertive and successfully created his own shot off the dribble.
After sitting out the last three games, Leonard returned to action to go 3-6 from beyond the arc. He finished with nine points in 16 minutes.
Aminu followed up his 19-point Game 4 with three points. He converted one of his eight attempts from the field in 24 minutes.
Facing elimination, the Blazers will return to the Moda Center to host the Nuggets on Thursday.