The Portland Trail Blazers exercised their turnover woes and their three point slump that cost them games 2 and 3 and dominated the Denver Nuggets in game 4, winning 115-95 to tie the series 2-2. They did it with star Damian Lillard having perhaps the worst shooting night of his career. Lillard went 1 of 10 from the floor and 1 of 6 from 3. He did have a near triple double with 10 assists and 8 rebounds. It was all around team play and a much improved defense that carried the Blazers to victory Sunday at the Moda center. It was also the eruptive presence of 8,000 fans in attendance including one Lucy Lane, the aunt of Blazers TV Commentator Jordan Kent, dubbed Lucky Lucy. Yes, she will be in attendance for game 6.
Jokic missed his first four shots, then shot inconsistently the rest of the game finding himself face to face with Jusuf Nurkic who matched Jokic minute for minute. Jokic who was averaging 30 points the first three games of the series only made 7 of 18 from the field and 1 of 4 from three. So called up and coming Star Michael Porter Jr found himself menaced by Norman Powell who was on him all game like Velcro. Facundo Campazzo didn’t get away with his dirty antics. The refs simply weren’t buying his flops for a moment. Aaron Gordon was a non factor. Rivers hit a few threes early but fizzled like a spent firework the rest of the way.
The Blazers came to play, knowing that a loss likely meant the series. They were composed. They were energized. They were ready. They finished with 24 assists, enjoying a very unselfish brand of basketball that got everyone involved. They closed out on the perimeter with some lock down defense holding Denver to 34% shooting from the field and 29% shooting from three. They beat Denver in the paint 46 to 38. They outworked Denver in the 1st quarter 32-24, led by 10 at halftime, and went on a 7-0 run to start the 3rd to emphasize that this series was far from over.
The Blazers led by as much as 33 points, buoyed by a strong 29 point showing from Norman Powell. CJ McCollum finished with 21 points, struggling a bit early before coming alive. Jusuf Nurkic was the Bosnian Beast once again. He was not about the to foul out three games in a row, nor was he going to let Nikola Jokic get the best of him on his home floor. Nurkic was all over the place, getting to the basket for easy points, blocking shots, pulling down rebounds, getting hands in the face of Nikola Jokic, you name it, Nurkic was there. He finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Birthday Boy Carmelo Anthony scored 12 pts off the bench hitting some key shots to keep Portland ahead, and help them build their lead. The starters got to rest for the fourth quarter and Denver made it look a little better, but it was too late. Even Keljin Blevins got some garbage time and hit a basket. It was in the cards today for Portland
Hopefully, the Blazers bring this energy with them on the road. They are going to need to steal another one at elevation, as they head back to Denver on Tuesday. The Blazers do need to get more out of their bench, as Denver’s bench outscored theirs 50-29. Anfernee Simons who has struggled since game 1 needs to get comfortable again with his shot. Melo needs to show the Denver fans that heckled him following game 2, that he still has some gas left in his reserves. RHJ was great on defense in place of Enes Kanter. The Blazers need to keep it that way.
Damian Lillard went for 44 points last time the Blazers were in Denver. As long as his teammates show up like they did today, the Nuggets better be afraid. The pressure is all on them now. Let’s go Blazers!