PORTLAND, Ore. — The Denver Nuggets have been good at bouncing back all season. Not even a draining four-overtime defeat could keep them down.
Nikola Jokic had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second straight triple-double and fourth of the playoffs, and the Nuggets evened their Western Conference semifinal series against the Portland Trail Blazers at 2-2 with a 116-112 victory on Sunday.
It was less than 48 hours after Portland’s 140-137 quadruple-overtime victory. It was only the second game in playoff history that went to four overtimes. The other was in 1953.
“Our guys are tough,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said. He added, “I mean, to come in here and win this game 36 hours after losing in four overtimes, speaks to just how tough we are.”
Malone cited regular-season statistics to back up his claims: Denver was 12-1 in the second game of back-to-backs, best in the N.B.A., and 13-3 in games decided by 3 points or fewer.
Jamal Murray led all scorers with 34 points and made all 11 of his free throws for the Nuggets, who handed Portland their first postseason loss at home this season. The series heads back to Denver for Game 5 on Tuesday.
C. J. McCollum had 29 points and Damian Lillard added 28 for the Trail Blazers, who missed out on taking their first 3-1 lead in a conference semifinal series since 2000.
“You go up, 3-1, and you have a lot of momentum and obviously that would be a great position to be in,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “But they’re a good team; they came out and played well.”
Denver outscored the Blazers by 27-14 in the third quarter to take an 84-77 lead into the fourth. Malik Beasley then kicked off the final period with a 3-pointer for the Nuggets.
Al-Farouq Aminu’s tip pulled the Blazers to 99-96 with 4 minutes 12 seconds to go. Lillard narrowed the gap to 1 with a pair of free throws, but Will Barton hit a 3-pointer and the Nuggets held off Portland down the stretch, largely because of Murray’s free-throw shooting.
Rodney Hood’s 3-pointer got the Blazers to 110-107 with 52 seconds left, and Lillard’s layup got the Blazers even closer to 112-110 with 7.7 seconds to go.
But Murray’s free throws gave Denver a 4-point lead. McCollum hit a long jumper that after a video replay was ruled a 2, and Denver held on.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘If we win today then the last game doesn’t really matter that much,’” Jokic said. “Yes we played a four-overtime game, it was exhausting, but we won tonight, so the last game doesn’t really matter.”
Fatigue was a concern for the second-seeded Nuggets, who had just one day off after their seven-game first-round series against San Antonio. The Trail Blazers dispatched their first-round opponent, Oklahoma City, in five games, clinching their first trip to the conference semifinals since 2016 on Lillard’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Enes Kanter started for Portland despite concerns about his left shoulder, which he injured in Game 5 against the Thunder. He and Jokic were physical adversaries through the first three games of this series, and Kanter said after Friday’s game that the shoulder separation was worse and that he was not sure he could play. He scored 5 points in 29 minutes.
Seth Curry made three straight 3-pointers — all within a minute — to put Portland ahead, 53-46, in the second quarter. Curry added a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send Portland into halftime with a 63-57 lead.
Curry, the younger brother of Golden State’s Stephen Curry, had 16 points in the first half, 14 of them in the second quarter.
The Nuggets opened the second half with a 10-2 run to go ahead by 67-65. Paul Millsap’s 3-pointer gave Denver a 78-72 lead, and after a couple of calls that went against Portland and drew the ire of the Moda Center fans, Jokic added a bank shot.
Source: Read Full Article