Trail Blazers' Backcourt And Bench Lead The Way To Force A Game 7 Versus Nuggets

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- Get ready for Game 7.

The Portland Trail Blazers got 62 points from their starting backcourt and 42 points from their bench to best the Denver Nuggets 119-108 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals in front of a sellout crowd of 20,022 Thursday night at the Moda Center.

The series is now tied 3-3 with Game 7 to be played Sunday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The Trail Blazers didn't get off to the start they would have liked, resulting in the Nuggets leading by as many as 10 points in the first quarter before taking an eight-point advantage into the second quarter.

But with their season in the balance, Portland responded with an 11-2 run early in the second quarter to get back into the game.

“I liked the way we came out," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "We kind of got behind the eight ball a little bit early in the first quarter, we fouled a little bit too much, but I think not so much how we came out, but how we responded to being down ten in the first quarter. We didn’t have a lot of momentum, but the way we came back in the first half was important and then the way we sustained it."

After the Nuggets shot 61 percent from the field and 60 percent from three in the first quarter, the Blazers, and specifically, their bench, held Denver to a paltry 29 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from three while making 55 percent of their attempts in the second quarter.

Behind the play of Rodney Hood, Zach Collins and CJ McCollum, the Trail Blazers outscored the Nuggets by 12 in the second to take a four-point lead into the intermission.

"I was just trying to be more aggressive, I felt like I was settling for jumpers early," said McCollum. "I wanted to get an easy one, get a floater or a layup in the lane."

But similarly to the last game at the Moda Center, the Nuggets made short work of the Blazers' halftime lead. A Gary Harris three at the 10 minute mark of the third gave the Nuggets a 61-60 lead, though the advantage would fluctuate back and forth for the better part of the next six minutes.

The Blazers were finally able to get some separation thanks to closing the third quarter out on a 12-4 run and Lillard going 6-of-10 from the field for 17 points to take an 87-80 lead into the fourth quarter.

“I thought a lot of the looks were similar looks, just had to make shots," said Lillard. "I think sometimes as a shooter, the shots just don’t fall then you start trying to make shots a little but too hard. You start trying too hard to make shots, maybe take a few tough ones and then that just makes it a longer night sometimes. I think over the course of the series or at least after game one, just haven’t seen the ball go in consistent enough. My job is to stay aggressive, keep doing what I do and tonight, shots fell."

Once again, the Nuggets pushed back early in the quarter, cutting the lead to four after two Mason Plumlee free throws with 10:32 to play. But Portland would go on a 15-5 run, capped by a Hood three-pointer off a feed from Collins with 6:27 to play, to take their largest lead of the night at 104-90.

From there, the Trail Blazers were able to hold the Nuggets at a distance -- they never got closer than within nine -- while also getting into a shoving match that resulted in Collins, Seth Curry, Will Barton and Torrey Craig all receiving technicals. But when it was done, the Blazers outscored the Nuggets 61-54 in the second half to come away with the 11-point victory.

Lillard went 11-of-23 from the field and 6-of-13 from three to finish with a game-high 32 points to go with five assists and three rebounds in 36 minutes.

McCollum shot 50 percent from the field for 30 points while also adding six rebounds and three assists in 42 minutes.

While Lillard and McCollum did what fans have come to expect them to do, the Blazers got necessary production from the bench to force a Game 7. Rodney Hood went 8-of-12 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 6-of-9 from the free throw line for 25 points to go with four rebounds in 31 minutes.

"I think he’s bounced back from the Oklahoma City series," said Stotts of Hood. "I think he’s had some favorable matchups and we’ve been able to take advantage of it. Obviously tonight with making threes – Oklahoma City, he struggled shooting the threes. He’s shooting with confidence and that just kind of snowballs. I think when you see the ball go in, especially with a scorer like Rodney, it’s just kind of snowballs a little bit."

Collins also came up big on both sides of the ball, going 4-of-8 from the field for 14 points, five blocks, four rebounds, an assist and a steal in 28 minutes.

“That’s my job, to come in and bring energy off the bench," said Collins. "It’s kind of been my job since I got here. It’s a lot easier to play like that when you’re at home and you’ve got the best fans in the NBA, that are jumping up at every single play and making the gym extremely loud. Definitely try to feed off the crowd a little bit and it helps when we’re playing well. But I just try to come in and do my job, bring energy.”

All five Nuggets players finished in double figures led by 29 points from Nikola Jokic, who also added 12 rebounds and eight assists before fouling out in just under 37 minutes. Jamal Murray had a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds.

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NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers evened the series at 3-3, forcing Game 7 in Denver on Sunday. It will be Portland’s first Game 7 since a 2003 first round series against Dallas.

• The Trail Blazers bench outscored the Denver reserves, 42-13.

• The Trail Blazers outscored Denver in the paint, 42-32, and on the fastbreak, 10-7.

• Portland outscored the Nuggets 32-20 in the second quarter. After trailing by eight points at the end of the first quarter, Portland held a four-point lead at halftime.

• Portland had three players score 25-plus points in a playoff game (Lillard, McCollum, Hood) for the first time since May 11, 1992 (Ainge, Drexler, Porter). It was the third time in their careers that Lillard and McCollum scored 30-plus points in the same playoff game (first this postseason).

• The Trail Blazers shot 46.1% from the field and 45.5% from the three-point line (15-of-33) while forcing the Nuggets into 38.4% shooting from the field and 37.5% shooting from beyond the arc (12-of-32).

• Portland recorded five blocks and four steals while the Nuggets had three blocks and seven steals.

QUOTABLE

"It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be intense, I’m pretty sure fans will be ready to rock. It’s going to take a total team effort like it did tonight." -- Rodney Hood on the upcoming Game 7

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With Game 6 decided, the series now heads back to Denver for Game 7. The Trail Blazers have already won once on Denver's home floor in the conference semifinals, but they'll need to do so again if they're to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

"We’re going to play a basketball game," said Lillard. "It’s a big game and we’ve won on their floor before and we know what type of mentality we had when we did that. We’ve got to go out there, be tough, be physical, be sharp in our scouting report, play for each other, play with each other on both ends and just put the pressure on them. Make them earn everything on their offensive end and then when we get the ball, make sure that we get shots up. Value each possession, don’t go out there turning the ball over, playing into their hands where they get an opportunity to get their crowd involved. So that has to be our mentality, to just be sharp, be physical, go in there ready to take the game because the only way it’s going to happen is us going in there and taking it."

Game 7 will be held on Sunday, though the time is still to be determined.

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