Denver Nuggets 125-115 Portland Trail Blazers: Three takeaways
The shorthanded Nuggets almost upset a hungry Trail Blazers team but couldn’t hold on to a fourth-quarter lead in a 125-115 loss.
Michael Porter Jr. continued his recent hot hand, leading the Nuggets for a third-straight night in scoring with 27 points to go along with 12 boards. Denver, unfortunately, couldn’t contain Portland star guard Damian Lillard, who hit 11 three-pointers en route to a game-high 45 points.
Here are the takeaways:
Barebones Nuggets run out of gas
The Nuggets were missing Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Troy Daniels and Vlatko Cancar. They still managed to almost edge a fully-staffed Blazers squad that is fighting for its playoff life in the seeding games. The players and the Nuggets coaching staff deserve credit for their showing on Thursday.
Yes, it would be easy to pick on the team’s three-point defense, where they allowed the Blazers to hit 23 from deep on 59 percent shooting. It would also be fair to point at the team’s inability to force turnovers. Yet, the reality remains that the Nuggets have played without three of their key starters throughout the NBA restart and were down a fourth on Thursday. It’s difficult to assess or criticize the team until Malone has his full roster on hand. Until then, the priority for this team is to get everyone healthy until the playoffs start on Aug. 17.
"I thought our second half effort was tremendous," Malone said. "I thought our guys competed. We got ourselves back in the game and we gave ourselves a chance. They are playing for their playoff lives with all their starters in. We've got guys that have not played a lot of minutes in the NBA. And we gave them all they can handle."
Jerami rallies Nuggets
Jerami Grant didn’t lead the Nuggets in any statistical category, but it was his impact on both ends of the floor that would be the catalyst for the team’s rally in the second half.
Grant, who started in place of the resting Paul Millsap, took over the third quarter for Denver and dropped 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and dished out two dimes. If the Nuggets have missed one thing throughout their opening three games of the restart, it’s been a player who could consistently slash toward the rim and create opportunities – largely due to the injuries to Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton III. On Thursday, Grant filled some of that void and was also a threat from downtown, where he hit two threes.
Denver trailed by as many as 14 points, but it was Grant’s play that helped the team take a three-point lead with 9:32 remaining. Although fatigue ultimately would be the team’s undoing, the reserve forward’s play was encouraging.
Following the game, Grant maintained his stance on wanting to keep the focus on social issues.
"I'm still trying to keep the focus on what's important, I want to keep the focus on Breonna Taylor's murder," he said. "I'm going to keep answering like that through [my] interviews."
Rookies provide spark
Porter Jr. has completely capitalized on the extended playtime that has been afforded to him due to the injuries currently in the Nuggets’ lineup. He also continued to make his presence on defense felt as well where he added an impressive 12 boards to go along with two steals and a block. That area of the court is probably where the rookie has shown the biggest maturation. His scoring prowess is well-known, but as he is becoming a well-rounded player due to his growth on the other side of the floor. It will be hard to envision him out of the starting lineup if he continues to play like he has since the NBA’s restart.
"[Coach Malone has talked about] always being locked in defensively," Porter Jr. explained. "I can be an elite defender, as well as an offensive player. The best ones do both."
With the Nuggets missing six players, Bol Bol was another player Malone turned to against the Blazers. He didn’t disappoint. The first-year center dropped nine points, five rebounds and a block in 24 minutes of action. Bol was by no means perfect, as his travel with just four minutes remaining proved costly for the Nuggets as the Blazers went on a 5-0 run to pad their lead to 10. Still, Bol was confident and didn’t look out of place on the court. As he continues to get playing time, he’ll grow out of those types of turnovers.
The future is bright in the Mile High City.