Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets didn’t feature a series-clinching buzzer beater from Damian Lillard. Or a Game 7 masterclass in the clutch from CJ McCollum. But it stakes a claim as arguably the most entertaining Playoff game of the Lillard era.
It’ll almost certainly go down as the longest.
In that pivotal Game 3 — which took place three years ago today — Portland outlasted Denver in a 140-137 four-overtime battle royal at the Moda Center.
It marked the first 4OT game in the NBA Playoffs during the shot clock era (1954-55) and just the second 4OT Playoff game in NBA history.
The back-and-forth, twist-and-turn affair showcased the grittiness and perseverance of a Portland squad making a surprise postseason run without its starting center. Multiple times, Portland looked dead in the water, toppled by the stellar play of soon-to-be-MVP Nikola Jokic, veteran Paul Millsap, up-and-coming star Jamal Murray, and ex-Blazer Will Barton. But every time, the likes of Lillard, McCollum, unsung glue guys Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu, and a hobbled Enes Kanter swung back to resuscitate their chances.
Down by five with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter? Cue a 5-0 run from Harkless and then a running basket from Lillard to regain the lead.
Trailing by two without the ball and 20 seconds left in the first OT? Lillard picked Torrey Craig’s pocket, leading to a fast break scramble and a game-tying floater from McCollum with 8.7 seconds left.
Then in the third OT, Millsap put Denver up 4 with a fadeaway gut punch from the left block with 31.8 seconds left. Yet, Portland climbed out of the hole once more. Lillard scored a quick two. McCollum forced a turnover. And Lillard drove by Craig for two more.
For five more minutes, the dance would continue.
Both teams had their shots to win. Both teams made their runs. But it seemed whenever one side gained the upper hand, the other made the necessary plays to prolong the action. All the while, ESPN showed classic cutaways of Blazers faithful with their hands on their heads or clasped in prayer, as if they couldn’t take the rollercoaster ride anymore.
It all set the stage for the fourth OT and Rodney Hood. The midseason trade acquisition brought to Portland in a marginal move to bolster the bench cemented his place in Rip City folklore that night.
Hood, who had the freshest legs of anyone after not playing since the first OT, galloped into the game with 1:59 remaining and torched the Nuggets for seven straight points, none bigger than the shot he hit with 17.8 seconds remaining.
On the play, McCollum’s stepback jumper over the outstretched arms of two Nuggets bounced off the heel right back to him. The shooting guard jumped in the air to corral the rebound and before touching the floor, pitched it to an open Hood on the right wing. Hood up-faked, allowing Barton to fly by on the closeout, took one dribble to regain his rhythm, and cashed in a three-pointer to give Portland a 138-136 lead.
His left hand still high from his follow through, the southpaw held up three fingers to the crowd. Then the mild-mannered Hood pounded his chest and let out a roar, while the arena roared with him.
The play would be the final lead change of the night.
RODNEY HOOD STEALS GAME 3 IN 4OT— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 4, 2019
PORTLAND GOES UP 2-1 pic.twitter.com/Jf5IkD3eJx
On the next possession, it seemed only fitting this war of attrition would come down to free throws. Jokic missed the front end of a pair with 5.6 seconds remaining and then sharpshooter Seth Curry knocked down two for Portland.
On Denver’s last gasp effort to extend the game to a Playoff record fifth OT, McCollum intercepted Millsap’s home run pass and threw it high in the sky to let the clock expire.
The Blazers survived 68 minutes of basketball with a 140-137 victory.
When it was all said and done, the minutes totals in the box score looked worthy of a plaque in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Jokic tallied 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists in a game-high 65 minutes. Murray scored a team-high 34 points in 55 minutes.
On Portland’s side, McCollum carried his teammates with 41 points in 60 minutes. 24 of those points came during extra time, causing ESPN commentator Dave Pasch to exclaim in the third OT, “CJ McCollum can’t miss!” Lillard scored 28 in 58 minutes, Kanter pitched in 18 in 56 minutes, and Hood, the hero, scored 19 in a modest 23 minutes.
The Game 3 victory proved to be much needed for Portland as the second round series went a heated seven games. Portland would ultimately overcome Denver in Game 7 behind midrange daggers from McCollum, advancing to the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals since 2000. Although Portland would be swept by the Golden State Warriors, the Conference Finals appearance still remains the crowning achievement of the Lillard era.
Three years later, the band has been broken up. Hood’s breakout play in the Denver series led to visions of him being a long-term core piece. A ruptured Achilles the following season ended his moment in the Sun far too soon and he was later shipped out of town, preceded or followed by almost everybody else. Only three players from the 2019 roster remain: Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and Anfernee Simons.
Still, the 2019 Game 3 marathon at the Moda remains one of those eternal memories stashed away in the Rip City vault.