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Damian Lillard Shines, but the Nuggets Bring the Blazers Back to Earth

Portland’s superstar was glorious, but Denver has one too.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Denver Nuggets 113-122 on Tuesday night to break a quick two-game winning streak. Damian Lillard led the scoring efforts for the Blazers with 44 points. Nikola Jokic headed the Nuggets charge with a 36-point triple-double, with just one missed shot for the game. He was backed up by the 23 points of Michael Porter, Jr. and 17 points from Jamal Murray.

Lillard’s 44 marked the sixth straight game he has eclipsed 30 points, but no one else on the Blazers scored enough to be a legitimate second option tonight in the loss. All four of the non-Lillard starters hit fewer than half their shots as the Blazers struggled to score.

This loss puts Portland at 21-23 for the season. Here’s how it went.

First Quarter

Jusuf Nurkic, Damian Lillard, and Jerami Grant each hit their first three-point attempt, allowing the Blazers to jump out to a very quick 9-4 lead. However, Jamal Murray took over the game. He scored all of the Nuggets’ first nine points to even up the score early in the contest.

Denver out-ran the Blazers in transition off of a Portland miss, and were a slightly-overthrown Jokic football pass away from another transition score after a turnover. That sequence led to the first timeout of the game from the Nuggets. Denver led 16-14 at the timeout with 6:38 left in the first.

The Blazers, led by Dame, adopted an aggressive penetration strategy which led to a couple easy shots at the rim. But threes are worth more than twos, and the Nuggets jumped out to a 30-22 lead thanks to 3-5 shooting from three in the first nine minutes.

Shaedon Sharpe came out of the mandatory timeout on fire, finishing an alley-oop and hitting a three on back-to-back possessions to make his presence known. Sharpe then hit a nice layup off an inbounds pass to cut the lead to just one. Sharpe was a beneficiary of good ball movement by the second unit, but the Nuggets still led 34-31 at the end of one.

Second Quarter

Denver opened the second quarter with Jokic on the bench, but were still able to trade blows with the Blazers for the early part of the frame. The Nuggets played fast and kept the ball moving to prevent the Blazers’ defense from getting set. On offense, the Blazers kept chugging along with a mostly bench look to keep the game close. The stretch was highlighted by a Nassir Little alley-oop finish to tie up the game and force a Denver timeout to adjust.

After the timeout, the offenses both went back to their reliable superstars. Dame hit two threes, and Jokic had a three of his own, as well as a lay-up, as they both put their mark on the game. Dame was then fouled on a three, made all three free-throws, then made another three to bring him up to a very efficient 22 points with five minutes left in the half. That outburst put the Blazers in position to take a lead on an Anfernee Simons three to cap off an impressive stretch for his team from deep.

Both Dame and Nurkic fell victim to the Nuggets inside game, each earning a foul for their defensive efforts. For Nurkic, that foul—his third—saw him sit for the rest of the half. The aggression, and the fouls, continued on both sides. Simons was called for one in transition, then Dame had a foul against him that led to a nasty fall on the other end. Then an Aaron Gordon technical, and a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope foul, and a Josh Hart foul. The end of the first half slogged by with all the whistles, but the Nuggets found some momentum late and took a 73-67 lead into the locker room. Both superstars had a great first half with 30 points on 8-12 from the field from Lillard, and 21 on a perfect 8-8 from the field from Jokic.

Third Quarter

Jamal Murray popped back up early in the second half, hitting two tough threes to help the Nuggets keep the Blazers at arm’s length. The turnover bug reared its head once again for Portland, as they were forced to take a timeout just over four minutes into the half after three early turnovers allowed the Nuggets to increase their lead to nine.

The early part of the third quarter flew by. The first foul was not called until there was less than five minutes left in the quarter: a breath of fresh air after almost twenty total called in the first half. The Nuggets began to put some distance between themselves and the Blazers, as almost every Portland player not named Damian Lillard struggled to put points on the board. A Denver 8-0 run gave them their biggest lead so far as they led 95-82.

Three straight Jerami Grant scores kept Portland within striking distance, despite the best efforts of the Nuggets. Denver rode ultra efficient scoring from Jokic, who added eight points in the quarter. bringing his total to 29 for the game on 12-13 from the field. He also completed his triple-double in the third quarter. Michael Porter Jr. proved to be another difficult Denver scorer to handle with 23 points of his own on 9-12 from the field through three. The Nuggets took a 101-89 lead into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter

Both Lillard and Jokic started the final frame on the bench, but neither team could capitalize on the other’s lack of a star in a major way. Lillard came in early for the Blazers, who were looking to build some momentum, and scored six quick points in his first two minutes back in the game.

An aggressive Blazers defense challenged the Nuggets, and kept them from putting the game away. However, only ten points halfway through the fourth meant the Blazers made almost no progress in their comeback attempt despite the good defense. Three foul calls and a technical foul on Lillard in just over two minutes allowed Denver to take a lead of 20 with less than four minutes left, all but sealing the Blazers’ fate.

Portland made a small push late, but couldn’t close the gap enough to make Denver sweat. The Blazers ended up pulling their starters and putting in the young guys with just under two and a half minutes left in the game.

Up Next


Stay tuned for analysis, coming soon!

The Blazers are back in action on Thursday, January 19th at 7:00 p.m. in Portland, taking on the Philadelphia 76ers.