Lillard And Trent Jr. Devastate Denver From Deep To Improve To 3-1 In Restart

by Casey Holdahl
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The Portland Trail Blazers set the franchise record for three-pointers made in a game with 23 while improving to 32-38 overall and 3-1 through four “seeding” games in Orlando with a 125-115 victory versus the Denver Nuggets at the VISA Athletic Center on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus at the Walt Disney World Resort outside of Orlando Thursday night.

“I think we’re playing good basketball and I think we’re playing with a determination in a playoff stretch that you have to have during this,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Whatever people say about us, ninth-seed, eighth-seed, we have to win games. We’ve dug ourselves this hole and we’re playing with the urgency we need to play with.”

Portland is now just a half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth and lead both the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs by 1.5 games for ninth in the Western Conference with four games remaining.

“With four games to go the math is a little easier,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Like I’ve said at the beginning and throughout this is we can’t afford to watch the standings or watch the scoreboards because it’s that close. There’s so many teams that are right in the thick of things that no body is even close to a magic number. Right now it’s just most important that we concern ourselves with winning games and doing what we have to do.”

Despite playing Thursday’s game without the likes of Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Will Barton, the Nuggets were able to keep pace with the Trail Blazers in the first quarter despite Damian Lillard scoring 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting from three in the first eight minutes of regulation.

“I just wanted to come out and try to set the tone aggressively and just assert myself because I understand that they had guys out and it could be a thing where we come out and take it for granted, think that it was just going to be a game we come out here and win,” said Lillard. “And I wanted to come out and be present and show I don’t care who is out here on the court, I don’t care what we think about who’s on the court or any of that. We’ve got to come out here and play like everybody is out here because it means more to us than it means to them.”

It certainly looked to mean more to Portland in the first half of Thursday's contest. After a close first quarter despite Lillard’s shooting, the Trail Blazers were able to pull away in the second thanks to Gary Trent Jr., who went 4-of-4 from the field, with three of those attempts coming from three, for 10 points in the quarter. Behind Trent’s long-range shooting and Jusuf Nurkic dunking seemingly every attempt, Portland outscored Denver by 12 in the quarter to take a 62-49 lead into the halftime intermission.

“(Trent Jr.) just continues to grow,” said Stotts. “He turned the tide in the first half. Porter Jr. came in, had 10 quick points. Gary came in and made an impact on the game at the six-minute mark. We played really well for the rest of the first half and it was in large part because of his impact on the game at both ends of the floor.”

But as arguably the deepest team in the NBA, the Nuggets, even without a number of key contributors, started to reel in the Trail Blazers in the third quarter. Jerami Grant and Porter Jr. combined to negate a 15-point third-quarter performance from Lillard, and with the rest of the Nuggets bench contributing more than the Portland’s -- no Blazer other than Lillard made more than one field goal in the third -- the lead was down to five going into the fourth quarter.

Denver scored the first six points of the fourth to take a 93-92 lead with just under 11 minutes to play in regulation. Trent Jr. answered, as he did for much of the game, with a three to reclaim the lead, though both teams would take turns playing hot potato with the lead for the next six and a half minutes.

It wasn’t until Nurkić went on a personal 5-0 run, which became an 8-0 Trail Blazers run after another Trent Jr. three with three minutes to play, that Portland reclaimed the separation they enjoyed in the second quarter. A Keita Bates-Diop three and a Mason Plumlee free throw cut Portland’s advantage to six with 1:49 to play, but Trent Jr. made his seventh three-pointer on the next possession to push the lead to 121-112, more than enough cushion to ride out the game and eventually come away with a 10-point victory.

“Tonight, (Denver) did what they were supposed to do, they competed hard and they made it a tough game for us,” said Lillard. “And for us, I thought we just did what we needed to do. Some people might say ‘Ah, they didn’t play anybody’ but for us, we not gonna apologize for a win. We here to just get it done.”

Lillard led all scorers with 45 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the field, 12 assists, four rebounds and three steals in 41 minutes. He tied his own franchise record for threes in a game with 11 and set a new franchise best for three-pointers made in a season with 247.

Trent Jr. finished with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 shooting from three to go with four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes. Between his seven three and Lillard’s 11, the two became just the second Trail Blazers teammates to net at least seven threes in the same game.

Nurkic finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 35 minutes. CJ McCollum added 13 points and six assists.

Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Grant added 18 and Torrey Craig, Mason Plumlee and PJ Dozier all finished with 13 points.

Next up, the Trail Blazers start an Orlando bubble back-to-back with a Saturday morning matchup versus the Clippers. Tipoff is scheduled for 10 a.m.

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