PORTLAND -- You couldn’t choke more drama out of a playoff game, technically a single playoff game, that actually felt like five or six rolled into one.
Back and forth they went, the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, in these Western Conference semifinals from a sun-soaked at the start Moda Center Friday evening until nearly midnight and into the early morning hours Saturday.
Four grueling overtimes, filled with enough gasp-inducing moments, enough emotionally jarring plays for both teams to win or lose this game a dozen times over. And that’s exactly what it felt like when the longest playoff game of the shot-clock era was over.
Let the record show that Seth Curry’s free throws with 2.8 seconds to play sealed the deal for the Trail Blazers in the final seconds of a wild 140-137 win, the NBA’s first four-overtime playoff game since 1953.
But it was the fresh legs and smooth flick of the left wrist of Rodney Hood that provided the crease of separation the Trail Blazers needed to finally end this marathon game, the 3,986th playoff game in NBA history, by the way, a game Nuggets coach Michael Malone dubbed an ‘instant classic.”
Could there have been a more unlikely hero for the Trail Blazers, who now own a 2-1 lead in this series with Game 4 looming Sunday afternoon, than Hood?
Or a bigger scapegoat than Denver superstar big man Nikola Jokic, who with an opportunity to tie the game with 5.6 seconds left, missed the first of two free throws?
“In that moment, you don’t think you are tired or how much you have played,” Jokic said after logging a mind-boggling 65 minutes. “You just want to give everything you’ve got in that moment. You don’t think about the exhaustion or how tired you are.”
When you own the trust of your coaches and teammates, when you believe and trust in each other the way the Blazers clearly do, you rise to the magnitude of the moment the way Hood did.
So maybe it does make sense, that he came through the way he did.
In fact, it might have been the only thing that made any sense on the wildest night yet of this NBA postseason.
“I just felt pretty good,” Hood said. “I was telling Gary Trent that if I got the chance, I was going to make it. They bring me in to be a fresh hand, and I can make a difference. So I was excited to go back in the fourth overtime.”
Hood’s pull-up 14-footer with 1:07 to play in that fourth overtime tied the game at 133-133. A 12-footer with 44.9 to play put the Blazers up 135-134 after Will Barton, the Nuggets’ fresh-legged alternative, made one of two free throws to put the Nuggets ahead seconds earlier.
Hood’s dagger with 18.6 seconds left and the Blazers down 136-135 after a Paul Millsap hook put the Nuggets ahead again. Hood stroked his spot-up 26-footer with the confidence of a player who was built for these magical moments, guys like Blazers’ stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who had no problem deferring to Hood or anyone else given the fatigue the starters on both sides were experiencing four overtimes in.
“It’s up there, it’s one of the biggest moments and obviously it’s the playoffs,” Hood said in regards to where his big shot ranks on his personal all-time list. “I’ve hit game-winners and big shots before, but this one means a lot, especially going back into the game after being out for a while.”
For a player like Hood, whose personal redemption tour fits perfectly with the redemptive ride these Blazers are on in this postseason, the timing couldn’t have been better.
The Blazers were swept out of the playoffs in the first round last season and the season before, so their grind to try to reach the conference finals this season is real.
Hood, meanwhile, was in Cleveland this time a year ago, making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He infamously refused to check into Game 4 of the Cavaliers’ series against Toronto, unhappy with his fit and role after being traded from Utah in February to a LeBron James-led team that would make The Finals for a fourth straight season.
Having a chance to come through in the clutch Friday night was a completely different feeling for Hood, who joined this crew after a February trade that sent Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin and second-round picks in 2021 and 2023 to Cleveland in the exchange.
“It means a lot,” Hood said. “I stayed patient. I didn’t get down on myself even when a lot of people did … trusting God, I just didn’t give up, didn’t give up on myself. I just kept playing, kept working. I had no idea I’d end up in Portland in this type of situation. But to be here and to have my family in the crowd. I saw all the sad faces the last go-around, so to be here is very emotional for me, to be quite frank. Got a lot more basketball to get through right now. A lot more basketball to go.”
That’s hard to imagine after living through the second quadruple overtime game in NBA history, the first since 1953.
Jokic played a game-high 65 minutes; only three players in NBA history have played more minutes in a postseason game -- Red Rocha (67), Paul Seymour (67) and Bob Cousy (66) in that 1953 four-overtime game.
But Jamal Murray also played 55, Millsap 49 and Gary Harris nearly 50 before fouling out after a night of stellar defense on Lillard. McCollum led the Blazers in minutes (franchise-record 60) and points (41), while Lillard logged 58 minutes, Enes Kanter 57 (with that busted shoulder), Al-Farouq Aminu 47 and Maurice Harkless 45.
The wear and tear, physically and emotionally, was on full display after the game. That goes for the players and the coaches alike, not to mention the roller-coaster ride the sellout crowd went through with each and every exhilarating and deflating moment inside the building.
“I have no idea what happened in the first half, the second half, or the first three overtimes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Rodney Hood came in and played great. It was a hell of a game. I’ve never been involved in a game like that, regular season or playoffs, but it was an amazing effort by both teams.”
Stotts’ decision to go to Hood in that fourth overtime wasn’t necessarily coaching genius either. It was also a product of the collective fatigue of the starters playing wicked minutes.
“Mo was cramping up a little bit,” Stotts said, “so that was the reason for the substitution. But we did go to Hood a couple times. Obviously, the 3-point shot was a scramble situation. CJ had a great play, but we did go to Hood because we liked the matchup a couple of times and he had fresh legs.”
And he had the trust of his teammates, the guys who had to facilitate in the heat of the moment to provide Hood’s chance to play the hero.
Lillard is as dialed in a leader as there is in this league. He knew exactly what it meant when Hood came in and out during those overtimes periods and delivered the way he did.
“It was huge,” he said. “Looking back at the first round, I don’t think he had the kind of series that he wanted to have, but in the series we had different guys come in and come up big for the team. I think in this series, every game he’s come in and given us a huge lift. I thought tonight was fitting that he was able to come through big for us and it was at a big time in the game.
“At one point, we were down two and coach called a play for him and he scored it and the next time, I was like ‘same play’ and he looked at me like ‘what are we doing?’ And I was like, ‘same thing, let’s keep it rolling.’ And he hit another one. I think that we he did for our team tonight was huge. Same thing in Game 2, but I think us trusting him and continuing to play through him in big moments, it made him feel that much better about that 3-pointer he shot. He rose up with confidence and hit a big shot, so it’s been great to see him coming for the team, especially tonight.”
Tonight bled into this morning for the weary on both sides, and before you know it Sunday afternoon and Game 4 will be staring them all in the face.
Like Stotts, Malone said he’s not sure where he’ll find the time to make sure his crew recovers properly and in time for what is essentially the most important game of the season for both teams.
“They have the same turnaround,” he said. “I mean, Kanter played 56, McCollum played 60 … we’re talking about a playoff game and guys are playing 60 minutes. That’s crazy. So yeah, you give them rest. You let them sleep in, you get them treatment, rehab, recovery … you try to learn from the loss and get ready to battle. Both teams are exhausted, so its the same for them as it is for us. We will not use that as an excuse. We haven’t used it all year long and we won’t start using it now.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.