It wasn’t pretty. It was more bull in a china shop then graceful swan, but the Trail Blazers pulled it out beating the Nuggets 97-90 on Wednesday night. Lillard and Co needed a win in the mile high city and they got one in game 2 to steal home court advantage and tie the western semi final series 1-1. It was the first win in Denver since 2016. Go bow tie*
The Blazers came out aggressive on defense from the start. They doubled Nikola Jokic on the dribble and closed out on shooters. The offense was shaky. Lillard continued to struggle, but Harkless and Aminu picked it up early. A focused and active Mccollum led the way.
Nuggets Guard Torrey Craig took a Collins arm to the face on incidental contact in the midst of contesting a defensive rebound with 11:42 left in the 2nd quarter. On the way down, Craig also hit his face on the back of teammate Monte Morris’s leg, which seemed to cause the most extent of the injury. Torrey Craig left the game, a bloody pool on the court, his face draped in a towel to staunch his nose which was later revealed to be broken. The Nuggets specified it as a nasal contusion.
Just over six minutes later, Blazers forward Maurice Harkless suffered a bad ankle sprain with 5:23 left in the 2nd. He suffered the injury after landing on the foot of teammate Zach Collins, turning his ankle completely sideways. Harkless left the game to the locker room for treatment and didn’t return. He remains questionable for game 3.
Everyone seemed to pitch in, with 7 Blazers having at least 5 points by halftime. The Nuggets struggled terribly from the field. They shot 4/20 from far in the first half. They didn’t hit a single basket in the last four minutes of the second quarter. The Blazers went halftime up 15 points, at 50-35.
Torrey Craig returned in the 3rd quarter with a face mask as the Nuggets tried to make several runs that were thwarted by bad shooting and a sustained and effective Trail Blazers defense. Portland seemed to control the game, answering every Denver basket. The Blazers only lost a point in the quarter leading by 14, at 78-64.
The Fourth quarter saw Denver amass the majority of their 23 offensive rebounds, in several spurts, as the Nuggets made small runs to cut Portlands lead. They were back within 8, at 88-80 with 5:20 left in the fourth. Terrible shooting on both ends kept the game idle for much of the quarter. Portland’s lead grew back to double digits twice before Denver made a last attempt to come back.
With 43.5 seconds left Portland was up 7, at 95-88 after Lillard hit a free throw. Jokic shoved Kanter as Lillard took the free shot and he was thrown into Torrey Craig who took yet another hit to the face. It was the third time Craig had been knocked down in the game. Gary Harris apparently not seeing it was caused by Jokic playing dirty, took exception and confronted Kanter. A double off setting technical was issued for both players.
The Nuggets got back within 5 points at 95-90 with 34.9 seconds left, but a continued atrocious shooting effort by Denver as well as several out of bounds turnovers, allowed Portland to hold off the Nuggets to win game 2.
If anyone had told me Damian Lillard would score only 14 points on 29% shooting from the field and 14% from distance, I would be hard pressed to imagine the Blazers winning. But, Portland’s star guard had plenty of help. Six Trail Blazers players were in double digits to end the game. Rodney Hood had yet another impressive outing in game 2. He is averaging 16 points per game this series.
Kanter didn’t repeat the 26 point effort from game 1, but he did finish with 15 and 9. He was a heavy presence against Jokic. When he sat, Collins took over and perhaps his best playoff game to date. He finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds and also played impressively against Jokic with 5 fouls. McCollum led the Blazers and all scorers with 20 points.
The Blazers held an opponent under 100 points for the fourth time this postseason. They did it twice on the road. They are 4-0 when they have done so. The Blazers won road games in consecutive series for the first time since the 2000 postseason when Portland won in Minnesota and Utah.
The series now reverts to Portland for games 3 and 4. The Blazers are undefeated at home in the postseason. Damian Lillard will be able to get a days rest and return home to the Moda Center where he hit the legendary 37 footer to end the Thunder series. The Blazers have the opportunity to seize control of the series. The fans will be waiting.
* If you looked at the Blazers bench, you would have seen every Blazers coach/staff member decked out in bow ties. The gesture and the win were dedicated to Jonathan Yim, the Blazers video coordinator who was hospitlized after a car accident last week. The Bow tie remains undefeated this season/postseason. Bow tie 10, opponents 0.