Denver Nuggets 137, Portland Trail Blazers 140: Key Takeaways from Game 3

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

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Three overtime periods weren’t enough to decide Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. The two teams traded tough shots in the final minute, which forced the game into overtime. Neither team could pull away throughout the first overtime as each team traded timely baskets. Damian Lillard stood out in the second overtime, as he scored back-to-back buckets to give Portland a commanding lead, but the Nuggets battled back to tie the game at 118. Lillard would miss a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend the game.

The fourth overtime was a defensive battle as the two teams battled through fatigue. Rodney Hood was the story for Portland, as he scored seven points in the final two minutes of the game, including a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to give Portland a 138-136 lead. Nuggets center Nikola Jokić would split a pair of free throws before Seth Curry knocked down two free throws to seal the victory for Portland.

"Lots of highs and lows,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “I couldn't have been prouder of our guys for the fight. We fought, we fought, we fought. That's all you can ask for."

It was another slow start for both teams, as the Trail Blazers jumped out to a 12-9 lead midway through the first quarter. Portland used five offensive rebounds in the quarter to make up for cold shooting. After Denver briefly took a lead, the Trail Blazers closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 23-17 lead. The Nuggets were 1-of-8 from three in the first quarter and 8-of-23 overall from the field.

Denver would respond with a strong 17-8 run throughout the middle stages of the second quarter, as Jamal Murray got hot. Murray scored 12 points in the quarter and knocked down two consecutive 3-pointers which gave the Nuggets a brief 41-39 lead. The two teams battled back-and-forth to close the half, with Portland taking a 48-47 lead into the break. Denver knocked down four 3-pointers in the quarter, but both teams finished the half under 40 percent shooting from the field.

The Nuggets came out locked in on both ends to start the second half, as a 9-2 run gave them a 56-50 lead. Murray hit two shots in the paint, while Jokić connected on a three to begin the run. However, Portland responded swiftly and used a 17-6 run to regain the lead at 67-62. The two teams battled to a draw to end the third quarter, as Portland took an 81-76 lead into the final frame.

The fourth quarter was an exciting display of impressive shot-making from both teams. Denver got enough defensive stops to tie the game at 93 with just over five minutes remaining. The two teams continued to trade baskets and key stops to battle to a 100-100 draw with one-minute remaining. Denver had the final say but couldn’t get off a shot in the final second, which sent the game to a first overtime at 102-102.

Key takeaways:

1) Nikola Jokić delivered an MVP performance

The Nuggets All-Star delivered another signature performance in Game 3, as he finished with 33 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists in 65 minutes of action. Denver’s star big man couldn’t be stopped throughout the game as he continued to fluster Portland’s frontcourt. Jokić displayed his full arsenal throughout the game, as he balanced post scoring with passing and 3-point shooting.

"Nikola was fantastic,” Malone said. “The guy was incredible."

2) Jamal Murray bounced back (again)

In what has become something of a pattern in the playoffs, Murray bounced back once again following a Nuggets loss. After struggling in Game 2 (15 points, 33.3 percent from the field), Murray posted 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Game 3. Murray was the driving force for Denver in the second quarter, which allowed the Nuggets to get back into the game. When Murray is hitting shots from all over the floor, it opens up Denver’s offense. Key shot-making from Murray makes it difficult for Portland to defend the pick-and-roll or double-team Jokić in the post.

3) Nuggets get key contributions from bench

Unlike in Game 2, Denver received timely contributions from the bench unit in Game 3, with Will Barton standing out. After struggling in the first half, Barton responded with impressive two-way play in the second half and in the overtime periods. Barton finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks in 38 minutes. Barton had two key blocks in the overtime periods that continued to give Denver chances to tie or take the lead. As the series continues, Denver will need Barton to contribute on both ends of the floor off the bench.

"I thought Will gave us a good lift offensively and defensively and on the glass,” Malone said. “It was great to see and I'm happy for Will." As the series continues, Denver will need Barton to contribute on both ends of the floor off the bench.

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