Denver Nuggets 120, Portland Trail Blazers 115: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets faced a hostile crowd at Portland in their first playoff road game in two years. Fortunately for them, they had Austin Rivers in the fourth quarter.

The guard scored 16 in the final 12 minutes to help the Nuggets secure a 120-115 win over the Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series. It was a crucial win for Michael Malone’s team as it now has a 2-1 series.

Nikola Jokić continued his sensational campaign by posting 36 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists on 50 shooting. Damian Lillard remains sizzling in this first-round series, putting up 37 points, five assists, and two steals on the night.

Denver will now look to gain a commanding 3-1 lead over Portland in Game 4 Saturday (2 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE, TNT).

Here are the takeaways:

Austin in the clutch:

Just under three months ago, Rivers was uncertain about his future in the league as a free agent. He initially joined the Nuggets on a 10-day contract in late April with something prove. He paid dividends Thursday. In Game 3, he hit four threes in the fourth quarter to stun the Blazers and help the Nuggets take a pivotal result.

Rivers’ greatest quality is his ability to get hot and score in bunches. He picked a great time to do. For three quarters, the shooting guard couldn’t find any rhythm – going for 2 of 8 for five points.

In the fourth quarter, it clicked for Rivers as he drove past Lillard to get an easy bucket. From that point on, the Nuggets’ offense deserves a lot of credit for consistently finding the guard. His biggest moment might have come with 3:49 remaining where he received a dish from Facundo Campazzo and pulled off a slight hesitation dribble on CJ McCollum before burying a shot from downtown. That would push Denver’s lead to eight points.

With several key players out with injury, the Nuggets have prevailed when other players step up into the third scorer role. On Thursday, Rivers rose to the challenge and delivered in several big spots.

Three-point barrage

Rivers wasn’t only the player to shine from downtown.

The Nuggets hit 20 of 38 three-point attempts, just over 50 percent. The team had eight players hit at least one shot from downtown and saw a strong performance from Jokić in that area.

The Serbian MVP candidate hit 4 of 7 from downtown against Portland, who struggled to find any option to slow the 26-year-old down. This is a significant improvement from the center, who had struggled with his three-point shot in the final nine games of the regular season in May. During that stretch, Jokić hit just 18.5 percent of his shots from downtown. In the playoffs, he was hitting 45.5 percent ahead of Thursday’s matchup.

Michael Porter Jr., Campazzo, and JaMychal Green also contributed, with the trio combining for seven threes.

Equally as impressive are the efforts of the Nuggets on the other end in containing the Blazers from downtown, one of the more dangerous teams in the league in that area. Portland hit just 14 of 45 attempts on the night. Lillard and McCollum, the team’s top two threats, combined for 8 for 26 from three.

Dime machine

Campazzo shot 3 of 9, but he had an immeasurable impact on both ends of the floor – finishing with 11 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, two steals, and one block.

The eight rebounds and a block are incredible considering the Argentine’s size at 5-foot-9. He always usually the smallest player on the court, but he continues to confound opposing teams with his intelligence and relentless nature. His two takeaways in the fourth quarter were crucial for Denver.

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