Coach Terry Stotts said after game 3, that he had no idea what happened in the first half, the second half, or the first three overtimes. I didn’t either after a dogfight of a semi final game that extended four overtimes before it was finished. It was the first 4OT NBA playoff game since 1953, sixty six years ago, when the Boston Celtics overcame the Syracuse Nationals 111-105. On Friday Portland bested Denver 140-137 in game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
It was a heavyweight bout. It was like the end of a Rocky movie. Both opponents wearied and bruised, exchanging exhausted blows. It ended when fresh legged Rodney Hood came in the game in the 4th overtime to replace Harkless who was cramping up. Hood hit back to back jumpers over Murray and then a three off a McCollum miss and rebound. Curry sealed the deal with two free throws, and it was finally over.
The Blazers seemed to control much of the first 48 minutes. The Blazers shrugged off a 9-2 Denver run to start the third with a run of their own to go up as much as 10 in the quarter. The Blazers were up 5, 81-76 going into the 4th. The last quarter of regulation was a slugfest, with Aminu missing a go ahead 3. With the buzzer sounding the game was tied 102-102.
The 1st overtime saw neither team give up an inch. It was seven points for seven points. Denver had the last possession with 8.7 seconds left and a chance to win it out of a timeout. Maurice Harkless took a very smart foul to stop the clock and catch Denver off guard. Unable to come up with a new play, Jokic through up a contested three which missed terribly to the left. 109-109 tie game.
The Blazers went on a run in the 2nd OT outscoring Denver 7-2 to start the period. It seemed Portland was going to win. But, Denver went on a 5-0 run including a Barton 3 and a Millsap Jumper over Aminu. McCollum and Murray exchanged jumpers and Lillard missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it. 118-118. 3rd OT?! Really?
The 3rd overtime started well for the Blazers after taking a four point lead, 125-121 halfway through at the 2:53 mark. Denver then went on an 8-0 run starting on Jokic’s first two points of overtime and including four free throws and just after Gary Harris fouled out, another Millsap jumper to take a 129-125 lead with 32.2 seconds left. It looked over. Denver was celebratory. But, disappointment didn’t have time to set in.
Damian Lillard ran the court and scored on a layup to bring the deficit back to two. McCollum knocked the ball away from Murray out of bounce with 19.2 seconds left. The Nuggets were sure McCollum touched it last, but a review showed the ball miraculously touching the edge of Murray’s fingers as it went out. Blazers ball! Lillard took it to the basket again and tied the game 129-129.
The Nuggets had the ball for the last possession for the second time with 8.4 seconds. Murray received the ball in bounds and got cocky. He waited for the clock to tick down then threw up a Damian Lillard esque 31 footer from near the Moda logo. An imitation of Lillard’s winner against the Thunder and missed.
A fourth overtime?! Are you kidding me. The 20,193 capacity crowd was at wits end. They stood shaking their heads half in wonder, half in fatigue from watching the longest NBA playoff game in 66 years. They were exasperated. They were bewildered. They were glad the Blazers were still alive, but they wanted it to end. The fans watching at home wanted it to end. My six year old was crying. He wanted to go to bed, but he couldn’t not watch the game. The players wanted it to end, but neither wanted to lose.
The Blazers and Nuggets traded shots to start the 4th overtime. With the Nuggets up two on a Will Barton jumper, Rodney Hood came in for Harkless, and skipped down the floor in an animate show of energy, to stimulate the team and the crowd. Hood hit a jumper to tie it 133-133 with 1:07 left. Thoughts of a 5th overtime began to swirl. Barton missed a free throw then Hood hit another contested jumper to give the Blazers the lead.
Millsap hit a hook shot on the other end to take the lead back 136-135 with 27.6 seconds left. McCollum missed a jumper, but somehow corralled a rebound and threw it out to Hood, who waited for his defender to jump past, and hit a dagger of a three. Up two Harkless got called for a foul at the other end. Jokic had a chance to tie it with two free throws. He missed the first and made the second. The Blazers inbounded with 5.6 seconds and were able to get 2.1 seconds of time before being fouled. Denver had to foul again with 2.8 left. Curry hit two free throws to seal it.
The Blazers took an epic game 3, remaining 4-0 at home in the playoffs, and control of the series 2-1. CJ McCollum led the way with 41. They have gotten further in the playoffs for the first time since 2000. They have done so without Jusuf Nurkic, their starting center. With a near crippled Enes Kanter taking his place. With little respect from the NBA. From pundits and oddsmakers who said the Blazers wouldn’t make it past the 1st rnd. Now, they stand on the cusp of making the Western Conference Finals. Game 4 on Sunday will be all important. Probably, the decider of the series. Both teams will bring their all. For those who still doubt the Blazers, learn some respect. Portland has earned it.