The Portland Trail Blazers knocked off the Denver Nuggets by a final score of 119-100 on Tuesday night. The win marked the Blazers’ fourth in-a-row overall, and ninth consecutive at home—having not lost in Portland since the season opener over a month ago. The dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum turned in their finest combined performance of the year to date, going off for 57 points while shooting 68% from the field as a duo.
The Nuggets played without reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and emerging rookie Nah’Shon Hyland, in addition to the more prolonged absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. They were led by the efforts of Jeff Green, who scored a season-high 24 points. However, it wasn’t nearly enough to combat a Blazers attack that also saw three other players score 13 or more points on the night, in addition to the efforts of Lillard and McCollum.
For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, see our Instant Recap.
Here were the key takeaways from Tuesday’s game:
Things didn’t look promising for the Blazers as they found themselves down by one with 2:55 remaining in the first half. However, Lillard suddenly caught fire from distance, leading his squad on a 18-3 run to close the out the half and put Portland in control of the game. Lillard teamed with McCollum to account for all 18 points over the run, which also featured an excellent defensive effort from the entire Blazers team.
While the Nuggets hung around in the 3rd quarter, the rally essentially put the game to bed. The Blazers knocked down enough shots and strung together enough stops to ensure that the final outcome was never truly in doubt after the halftime break. Portland was able to go to their deep bench in the fourth quarter, especially significant as they are on the first of a back-to-back. Lillard was held to just 31 minutes, scoring 25 points. McCollum scored 32 over 34 minutes.
Upon his arrival in Portland this summer, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups declared his two biggest goals for the team in the upcoming season—improved defense and better ball movement. Both were on display against the Nuggets on Tuesday. After a humiliating 29-point defeat in Denver just nine days ago, and that on the heels of last season’s disappointing playoff exit against the same team, the Blazers appear to be on the right track towards realizing Billups’ expectations.
While they had trouble separating themselves on the scoreboard in the early going, the Blazers had a solid defensive presence all night. They forced eight Nuggets turnovers in the first quarter, and 17 on the game—converting those takeaways to 32 points on the other end of the floor. Portland played with active hands, registering 12 steals. Norman Powell had three, while McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. each had two.
In addition, the Blazers’ ball movement was excellent throughout the night, with a number of possessions seeing four or five different players touch the ball. They dissected the Denver defense to find quality looks for their shooters, particularly from beyond the arc. Portland shot shy of 40% from distance, but the makes all seemed to come at important times, and helped squash any potential Nugget second-half rally.
Billups also made a key personnel adjustment in the third quarter. Denver’s Aaron Gordon overpowered the smaller Powell on several possessions, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone appeared to have found a matchup to exploit. Billups switched the bigger Robert Covington onto Gordon defensively, and Gordon was essentially a non-factor the rest of the way, finishing with 11 points.
Bench Shines Again
Portland’s second-unit continues to impress. The front court lineup featuring Nance Jr., Nassir Little and Tony Snell provided great energy and versatility defensively, as they have all season long. Offensively, Anfernee Simons busted out of a minor slump with 14 points on 6-12 shooting for his first double-digit scoring effort in the last four games. Little chipped in 13 with five rebounds. Both Simons and Little played 23 minutes, while Nance was limited to 15—though he likely would have closed out the game had the outcome been closer.
Nurk a Mixed Bag
The Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic had to be salivating at the prospect of facing the Nuggets without a true center. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the size mismatch, going just 2-6 from the field in 24 minutes. On the plus side, he operating well in the pick-and-roll with Lillard, showcasing his passing ability as the roll man to tally three of Portland’s 25 assists. He also committed just one foul over 24 minutes of action, the first time he’s had fewer than two personal fouls since the team’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on November 6.
The Nuggets have now lost five straight games. In fact, they haven’t won since defeating Portland 124-95 back on November 14.
The Blazers head south for a matchup with the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night at the Golden 1 Center. The game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT and will be broadcast locally on ROOT Sports.