The Denver Nuggets wanted to treat game 6 like it was game 7 of the series. If the results of that are any indication of what is to come on Sunday, Denver is in big trouble. The Trail Blazers staved off elimination and sent the series back to Denver for a final game, with emphatic measure. Portland controlled much of game 6 with renewed vigor and defeated Denver 119-108 at the Moda Center.
The Blazers won the tip off, but they didn’t have a great start. The game seemed to continue off from where the lopsided game 5 ended. The Blazers were making many of the same mistakes, they were shooting poorly, and missing free throws. Denver controlled the opening quarter, going on two 6-0 runs and a 5-0 run, to build the lead as high as 10, 24-14. The Blazers showed some signs of life after a Lillard 3 and 7 bench points from Rodney Hood, but the Denver Nuggets outscored Portland by 8, 34-26 in the quarter.
The Trail Blazers went on a 11-2 run to start the 2nd quarter. Rodney Hood came out and remained aggressive on offense and the Trail Blazers fed off of it. Zach Collins was a buoy on defense, pulling down boards, blocking shots, and putting up second chance baskets to help Portland advance their lead. Hood and McCollum caught fire early, with Lillard continuing their run late in the quarter. Portland Shot 55% from the floor in the quarter, outscoring Denver by 12, 32-20 and taking a 58-54, 4 point lead to halftime.
The Blazer starters fought off Denver in the third. Aminu, who has seemed to struggle against the Nuggets hit an early three. McCollum continued to be on point with his shooting. Kanter fought hard for rebounds and put-backs. The Damian Lillard Portland had been missing since the end of the Thunder series returned. He was hitting long threes again, making savvy passes to open shooters, and taking it to the basket aggressively as we have seen. His teammates showed up too, and it made all the difference. The Trail Blazers went on a 12-4 run to end the third and took a 87-80 lead into the fourth. Denver made a run early, but Portland wasn’t having it. They went on a 15-5 run of their own and maintained solid ground for the quarter, outscoring Denver, 32-28 and winning 119-108.
Aminu and Harkless have struggled against Denver and played far less minutes Thursday. Those minutes were taken by Collins and Hood, who in the lineup with Lillard, McCollum and Kanter, seemed to flourish, seemed to be the long needed answer against stopping Millsap and slowing down Jokic. They got under the Nugget’s skin. Denver grew more and more frustrated as the game went on. The Trail Blazers had their number and they kept dialing it off the hook. Look for a similar strategy by Stotts Sunday, to overcome match up issues with Denver.
Damian Lillard (15) surpassed Clyde Drexler(14) with the most postseason games of 30 or more points in franchise history. Lillard, McCollum, and Hood became the first three Blazers to score 25 points a piece in a playoff game since, Porter/Ainge/Drexler did it in 1992 when they scored a combined 89 points (Drexler 33, Porter, 31, Ainge 25). Lillard, McCollum, and Hood went for a combined 87 points (Lillard 32, McCollum 30, and Hood 25) on Thursday night. Rodney Hood scored a playoff career high 25 points. His energy and tenacity were the engine that powered the Blazers to this win. He most certainly deserves game ball. Zach Collins scored 14 points for the second game in a row to go with 5 blocks and 4 rebounds. He was all important on key defensive stops and deserves his due too.
The Blazers head back to the Mile High City for game 7 on Sunday. They will get a few days off to acclimate to the altitude. Kanter will have some time to rest his arm. Portland needs to be rested and ready. Sunday they go to war. It will be knock out drag out fight to the end. The Blazers face an uphill battle, and not just because of Denver’s high elevation. Portland has never won a game 7 on the road.
This will be only the fourth game 7 Portland has played in its franchise history. Two of the past three were on the road. The last one was in Dallas in 2003 in a first round match up with the Mavericks. Portland had come back from being down 0-3, winning three consecutive games to bring the series back to game 7 behind some star level play of Bonzi Wells. History was not to be made though, as Portland fell to Dallas in the final game 107-95.
Before that, the last game 7 on the road was in 2000. It is one Portland fans have tried hard to forget. The mere mention of it brings nausea and headache, bring memories probably better left forgotten. The Blazers were down 1-3 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 WCF’S. Portland fought back winning two straight games, before heading back to LA for game 7. Portland controlled the game through three quarters, taking a 13 point lead into the fourth. Fans were on the edge of their seats. Then everything unraveled and the Lakers came back to win the game, 89-84.
The Blazers only other Semi Finals game 7, and their first, was a 108 -105 overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs in 1990. The hitch? It took place on the Blazer’s home court and not in the hardest place to win on the road. The Blazers made it to the NBA Finals that postseason. So there is that. Is this a season of destiny for the Blazers? Game 7 is going to depend on who wants it more. Portland is the more veteran team, they have the experience and the heart. Denver though has proved to be a force to be reckoned with. They must be given their due. Sunday is going to be clash of the titans. An all out war, and when the smoke clears, only one team will be left standing. Get it done Blazers.