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Nuggets Rally Past Portland, Set Up Wednesday Showdown at Minnesota
Succumbing to the pressure of the moment, or any chaotic, adverse situation around them just isn’t the Nuggets style these days. In a six-game winning streak, punctuated by Monday night’s 88-82 win over Portland in a playoff atmosphere at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets have exhibited the never-say-die resiliency of a prizefighter. Better yet, the never-say-die resiliency of their New York-tough coach, Michael Malone.
They claw, they scratch. They don’t do everything right, but here’s the thing: They win.
To get to the playoffs, the Nuggets have been charged with doing something they hadn’t done in five years – win seven straight games. Well, now they’ve knocked down six of them. And Monday night’s thriller was the most Rocky Balboa-esque of them all.
Fight was needed.
Portland hit the Nuggets with some offensive-rebound haymakers, and the home team had to bounce back. The Trail Blazers used their human battering ram, center Jusuf Nurkic, to lead an attack on the offensive glass. They opened the game with an offensive rebound leading to second-chance points. They had four more offensive rebounds in one possession soon thereafter. By halftime, Portland had racked up 11 offensive rebounds – Nurkic had six of them – and the Nuggets were down seven.
And things deteriorated from there.
The Nuggets were down by as many as 11, and were down nine when Jamal Murray appeared to be fouled as he flew in for lay-in during the third quarter. Murray hit the deck. Malone sprinted on the floor, demanding that his player be awarded a foul. The referees hit him with a technical foul.
And the Nuggets’ fortunes changed in an instant.
“If we’re going to lose, fight,” Malone said. “That’s what I did.”
His team followed his lead.
“Coach’s tech kinda gave us some extra energy,” guard Will Barton said.
And the Nuggets used that energy as fuel that led them to finish the game on a 35-20 run. Gone were all of the Blazers’ offensive rebounds leading to second-and-third chances. Gone was the stagnant offense that plagued the Nuggets in the middle two quarters.
In its place? A new star of the show, Nikola Jokić, the newly minted Western Conference Player of the Week, who controlled the boards in the fourth quarter, and rode his 20 rebounds overall to another triple-double – his 10th of the season. Jokić had 15 points and 11 assists to accompany all of those boards, 18 of which came on the defensive glass.
Barton led the Nuggets with 22 points and seven rebounds. He and Mason Plumlee were the only two Nuggets to shoot at least 50 percent from the field.
“Our guys stepped up and understood the urgency of the situation,” Malone said.
And the Nuggets got a huge boost with the return of Gary Harris, who had missed the previous 11 games due to a knee injury. He did not start, but entered the game in the second quarter and finished with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, and added two steals in 18 minutes.
“He didn’t play like a player that missed 25 days,” Malone said.
And now, the main event. Minnesota won on Monday night as well. The Nuggets and Timberwolves play their regular season finale in Minneapolis on Wednesday to see which team goes to the playoffs.
The Nuggets’ task is simple.
“We’ve got to go to Minnesota,” Barton said, “and get the job done.”
The Nuggets wouldn’t have it any other way.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.