Playoffs 2019 West Semifinals: Nuggets (2) vs. Trail Blazers (3)

Craig leaves Game 2 with nasal contusion, returns with mask

Forward also involved in late-game scuffle between Nuggets, Blazers

Nose bloodied, Torrey Craig returned wearing a clear mask.

Knocked down later, his Denver Nuggets teammates rushed to his defense.

There’s no masking the appreciation the Nuggets have for their defensive specialist. Bloodied and bruised, Craig contributed seven points in a 97-90 loss to Portland on Wednesday night as the Trail Blazers tied the Western Conference semifinal series at a game apiece.

“He fights. He’s a fighter,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “Hate to see something like that happen, but for him to come back and be inspiring like he did, it was unbelievable.”

Craig was going for a rebound early in the second quarter when he appeared to bounce off Blazers forward Zach Collins and fall into the leg of Denver teammate Monte Morris. Craig remained down on the court for several moments as trainers came out to treat him. There was blood on the court when he left the floor.

Craig was taken to the locker room with a towel covering his face. The Nuggets said he had a nasal contusion.

But he returned late in the third with the Nuggets needing some energy, wearing plugs in his nostrils to control the bleeding and a clear mask he had custom-fitted from a previous broken nose. Craig provided a spark by grabbing a rebound and later hitting a 3-pointer.

“Most guys wouldn’t even come back into the game after that,” said Gary Harris. “He took some hard hits and kept playing for us. He’s huge for this team.”

As the game was drawing to a close, an incident that transpired with just under a minute left in the fourth quarter. After a free throw, Enes Kanter bumped into Craig, knocking him to the ground. Jamal Murray took exception to Kanter staring down the fallen Craig and a minor scuffle ensued near midcourt. Teammates raced to break them up, with Kanter and Murray drawing technicals.

What happened in the skirmish varied by the perspective of the team. Kanter said he was pushed by Nikola Jokic and that it was just an accident.

“It was a free throw box out, and then this dude literally just pushed me into his teammate, and then I knocked somebody down,” Kanter said, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “Then they started getting in my face. I’m like ‘I didn’t do anything, your teammate just pushed me into you,’ so I like that. That for me is what the playoffs are all about, just out there and just give everything you have. You either win or you go home.”

Harris was the first to Kanter and appeared to tell him to stop before some shoving broke out. Morris was on the bench when the incident happened and said it provides some foreshadowing for Friday’s Game 3 (10:30 ET, ESPN).

“I saw Torrey on the ground,” Morris said, per The Denver Post. “I was on the bench. I didn’t see it, but that showed you how Game 3 is gonna be. It’s gonna be real chippy. We just gotta be ready to take the challenge, throw the first punch and do what we do to get the win.”

Accident or not, Millsap didn’t appreciate it.

“We don’t care,” Millsap said. “Shouldn’t hit our guy anyway.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who played a peacemaker of sorts during the skirmish, said he didn’t see any malice after watching the replay of it.

“Listen, both of these teams are trying to get to the Western Conference finals,” Malone said. “It’s gonna be hard fought, it’s gonna be physical, but there’s nothing dirty about that and I respect that.”

As for Craig, Malone said he couldn’t help but respect his player’s toughness..

“I told him, ‘If you can’t go, you don’t have to be Willis Reed for us,’ ” Malone said, alluding to the New York standout who hobbled onto the floor in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to help the Knicks win. “What I love about him is that kid is not going to allow me to keep him off the court.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.