Blazers Stumble In Third Quarter, Nuggets Reclaim Home Court With Victory In Game 4

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- When two teams are as evenly matched as the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, just a few minutes of bad basketball can be the difference between taking a commanding lead in a series or losing momentum on your home court.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers Sunday afternoon, it as the latter rather than the former.

The Nuggets went on a 10-2 run to start the second half and eventually outscored the Trail Blazers 27-14 in the third quarter to turn what was a six-point halftime deficit into a seven-point fourth-quarter lead. Portland would never reclaim the lead thereafter on the way to dropping Game 5 116-112 in front of a sellout crowd of 20,146 Sunday afternoon at the Moda Center.

"You go up 3-1 and you have a lot of momentum and obviously that would be a great position to be in, but they’re a good team," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "They came out and played well. We had a bad third quarter and that kind of made the difference. We made a good comeback but now it’s a three game series."

Sunday’s loss was Portland’s first at home during the 2019 Playoffs. The series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 to be played Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The win also assures that the series will go to at least six games, with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Moda Center.

As was the case in Friday's quadruple overtime game, which the Trail Blazers would eventually go on to win to take a 2-1 lead in the series, neither team was able to get much separation from the other in the first half. The Nuggets went on a 10-0 run early in the second quarter, the Blazers answer by going on a 20-7 run to take a 55-46 lead with 4:31 to play in the first half.

But the Nuggets were able to trim that advantage to six before the intermission, and that was despite Seth Curry, who scored 14 points in the second quarter alone, hitting a three-pointer as time expired in the first half.

If there was any momentum gained by Curry's halftime buzzer-beater, it dissipated almost immediately after start of the third quarter. Denver started the half on a 10-2 run and came one point away from doubling Portland's point production in the third quarter to take an 84-77 lead into the fourth and final quarter.

"I thought that third quarter, our energy wasn’t where it needed to be," said Damian Lillard. "It’s going to be hard to keep a lead or keep a team off you when you score 14 points. I think that came from turning the ball over, allowed them to get out, not being as sharp as we needed to be in our coverages and they’ve got a lot of shooters out there.

The Nuggets took their largest lead of the night at 87-77 after Malik Beasley started the fourth with a three-pointer. But true to form, Portland responded with an 8-0 run, which was sparked by two three-pointers from CJ McCollum, to cut the lead to 87-85 with 9:20 to play.

But they were never get over the top versus a Nuggets team far tougher than their playoff experience would indicate. Portland got the lead down to one after two Lillard free throws with 3:26 to play, but Will Barton answered with a three on the next possession to push the advantage back to four.

The remained of the game would play out the same way, with Portland getting to within one possession, only to have Denver answer. And unlike in Game 3, when a missed Denver free throw in the fourth overtime all but assured a Portland victory, the Nuggets, and specifically Jamal Murray, made clutch free throws after clutch free throw to ice what would eventually be a four-point victory.

"In the playoffs, it’s going to be competitive," said Lillard. "It’s not always going to go your way. The good thing for us is that we won a game on their court, so it’s not like we lost both there, they came here and won one and we’re going back facing elimination. So I think we’re in a good space, two to two, we know we’re capable of winning on their floor and that’s what we’ve got to go get done. Obviously it’s disappointing, we didn’t want to let an opportunity like this slip but it happens. It’s playoff basketball and we’ve got to move forward."

McCollum led the Blazers with 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 from three for 29 points to go with five rebounds, an assist and a steal in 38 minutes. Lillard went 9-of-22 from the field, 2-of-7 from three and 8-of-11 from the free throw line to finish with 28 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu added 19 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes while Seth Curry came off the bench to score 16 on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three in 26 minutes.

The Nuggets had four players finish in double figures led by 34 points from Jamal Murray, who also hit a number of clutch free throws to ice the game late in the fourth quarter.

Nikola Jokic put up a triple-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists after playing 65 minutes in Denver’s four overtime loss in Game 3 Friday night.

Paul Millsap also added 21 points and 10 rebounds and Gary Harris went 6-of-14 from the field for 14 points. Will barton finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes.

LISTEN UP

NOTABLE

• Denver evened the best-of-seven series against the Trail Blazers at 2-2. Game 5 will be played on Tuesday, May 7 in Denver followed by Game 6 in Portland on Thursday, May 9.

• The Trail Blazers shot 47.6% from the field (39-of-82) while holding the Nuggets to 43.5% shooting (40-of-92).

• The Trail Blazers made 12 three-pointers (of 28) to Denver’s 11 three-pointers (of 25).

• Portland had five blocks and four steals while Denver recorded four blocks and seven steals.

• Portland outscored the Nuggets on the fast break, 12-9.

• The Trail Blazers bench outscored the Denver reserves, 27-23.

QUOTABLE

"I think it’s entertaining because we play an entertaining brand of basketball. We get out and run and shoot threes, we’re in high isolations situations, pretty good home court advantage and I think they play a nice brand of basketball over there – back doors, dribble hand-offs, make the extra pass. I think that’s why it’s entertaining to watch." -- CJ MCCOLLUM

NEXT UP

The series now moves back to the Pepsi Center for Game 5, which is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. on TNT.

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