Denver Nuggets 108, Portland Trail Blazers 119: Three takeways from Game 6

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

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Another series, another Game 7.

The Denver Nuggets got off to a hot start in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, but weren’t able to capitalize on it in a disappointing 119-108 defeat on the road at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Nikola Jokić continued his stellar inaugural postseason run with another incredible game, pouring in 29 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Unfortunately, for the Nuggets, Game 6 saw a return to form from Portland star Damian Lillard, who had his best performance of semifinals with 32 points on 11 of 23 shooting.

When Denver took a 16-7 lead after back-to-back threes from Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, it appeared as if the team would be booking its ticket to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009. The Nuggets would take a 34-26 lead entering into the second quarter, which appeared to be a positive as the team was 3-0 in the postseason when it leads after the opening 12 minutes of the game. With their backs against the wall, the hosts would respond in the second quarter as they outscored Denver 32-20. CJ McCollum sparked Portland’s turnaround as he hit two threes en route to a nine-point quarter.

“In that second quarter, everything got turned around really quick.” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “Give their bench credit, those guys came in and played really well for them.”

It was in the second half where Lillard would take over the game, as he poured in 21 points – including 17 in the third quarter. Although Denver outrebounded Portland and won the turnover battle, they couldn’t get going on offense as the team shot 38.4 percent from the floor.

The Nuggets will look to regroup and use their homecourt towards their advantage in Game 7 on Sunday at Pepsi Center (TV and time TBD).

“Now we go home and [we] have the best homecourt advantage in the NBA,” Malone said. “We’re going to rely on that once again to try to close out Game 7.”

Here are three takeaways:

Bench struggles

The Nuggets’ bench couldn’t get going in Game 6 as Portland’s reserves outscored the unit 40-11. The unit shot just 4 of 16 on the night and allowed the Trail Blazers bench to hit 13 of its 23 shots.

Rodney Hood has been difficult for the Nuggets to contain throughout the semifinals and it continued on Thursday night as he finished the game with 25 points on 66.7 percent shooting. Zach Collins was also effective as he had 14 points, five blocks and four rebounds.

“I thought Rodney Hood was the MVP of the game,” Malone said. “[He] had a huge impact throughout the game, all four quarters.

The Nuggets bench was a significant reason why the team was able to get past San Antonio, but outside of Will Barton, the unit hasn’t been able to get going in the semifinals. Denver’s reserves are shooting 36.6 percent in the semifinals as opposed to converting at 44.7 percent in the first round.

Defensive regression

Denver’s defense was the catalyst of the team taking a 3-2 lead in the semifinals heading into Game 6 as it did a superb job of limiting the effectiveness of Lillard in the first five games.

Lillard, a career 37 percent shooter from downtown, was hitting just 25.7 percent against the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. That would change on Thursday night. Portland’s star guard was lethal from behind the arc, hitting 6 of 13. Part of Lillard’s success came from extending his range as he unofficially hit at least two shots from at least 27-feet out.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Lillard wasn’t the only player who knocking down threes from downtown as the Trail Blazers hit 15 of 33 on threes. Entering Thursday’s game, Portland was shooting 32.7 percent from downtown.

“We have to play better defense, it’s pretty black and white,” Malone said before later adding. “In our wins in the playoffs, our defense has carried us. Even on nights like this where you struggle to make shots, you have to rely on your defense. I thought our defense was not where it needed to be tonight.”

Jokić gonna Jokić

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe what Jokić is doing in his first-ever postseason experience.

Jokić shot 66.7 percent and continued his recent uptick in hitting threes, going 2-for-3 from behind the arc. It isn’t a surprise that when the Serbian center dealt with foul trouble, picking up his fourth in third quarter, the Nuggets had a difficult time of getting into rhythm until he returned at the 9:56 mark.

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