Paul Millsap And Nikola Jokić Pace Nuggets’ Offense in Win Over Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

In a nationally-televised game featuring two teams in the top four of the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets survived with a 119-110 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The win clinched the Northwest division title for the Nuggets and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The game was a back-and-forth affair, as the two teams traded runs throughout the game. Ultimately, Denver’s starting frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić did enough to lead the Nuggets to victory, despite the team’s shooting struggles. The Nuggets shot just 6 of 26 from three but got timely baskets inside the arc to compensate for the points left on the board.

The Blazers (50-29) jumped out to an early 16-8 lead on the back of strong rebounding and post play from Enes Kanter. Portland knocked down six of its first 10 shots and held an early 8-2 advantage on the boards. Cold shooting hurt the Nuggets’ offense in the first, as they missed all five of their 3-point attempts in the quarter. The Trail Blazers finished the quarter with a 29-22 lead, with Kanter and Rodney Hood both scoring eight points.

Denver (53-26) capitalized in the second quarter as Damian Lillard rested up on the bench. The Nuggets went on a 9-2 run to begin the quarter, as the defense tightened up and held Portland to 1-of-5 shooting from the field during that stretch. That active defense was key for the Nuggets as they got back into the game, as they generated seven steals in the first half. After Millsap and Jokić checked back into the game, the two big men attacked the basket and drew several fouls. Denver finished the first half 16-of-18 from the free throw line, which allowed it to overcome their shooting struggles. Millsap finished the half with 16 points, while Jokić put up 10 points, six rebounds and five assists. Denver took a 56-50 lead into the halftime break.

The Nuggets withstood their ground to begin the second half and extended their lead to nine after the first half of the quarter. Jamal Murray scored seven of Denver’s first 17 points in the quarter, while Millsap contributed seven points of his own. However, Portland responded with a 6-0 run to cut the score to just 73-70. The Trail Blazers battled back to take the lead at 81-78, as they continued to benefit from an advantage on the boards. The two teams battled to a near draw to close the quarter, as Portland took an 87-84 lead into the fourth quarter.

Denver began the fourth quarter with an 11-4 run to take a 95-91 lead. Jokić led the way with seven points in the first two minutes of the quarter. Denver extended the lead to 104-98 at the halfway point of the quarter, as Malik Beasley and Monte Morris took turns knocking down mid-range jumpers. The Nuggets continued to withstand Portland’s comeback attempts, as the two teams traded baskets over the next couple of minutes. Denver pulled away with under two minutes remaining, as Jokić caused a crucial Portland turnover that led to a layup from Torrey Craig on the other end, giving the Nuggets a 114-107 lead with just over one-minute remaining. A key strength for Denver in the final quarter was on the boards, as the Trail Blazers only finished the game with one more rebound than Denver.

The Nuggets were led by Millsap, who scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field. Jamal Murray (23 points), Jokić (22 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists) and Craig (18 points) were the other players in double-figures.

Kanter led Portland with 24 points. Rodney Hood (17 points), Jake Layman (15), Evan Turner (15), Damian Lillard (14) and Al-Farouq Aminu (12) were the other players in double-figures for the Trail Blazers.

The Nuggets and Blazers complete a home-and-home in Portland on Sunday. The game will tip at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV.

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