Denver Nuggets 95, Portland Trail Blazers 115: Three takeaways

The Nuggets couldn’t carry the momentum from their impressive Game 3 victory into Game 4, suffering a 115-95 defeat to the Trail Blazers in Portland.

Denver couldn’t get anything going from almost tip-off as it never led the contest and fell behind by 10 at the 3:22 mark. From there, it was largely smooth sailing for the Trail Blazers, who led by as many as 33. On a positive, Denver split its two games at the Moda Center and regained home-court advantage as a result. Two of the final games of this first-round series will be played at Ball Arena – if this is a seven-game series.

Nikola Jokić led the Nuggets with 16 points on 7 of 18 shooting while adding nine boards. The Blazers were paced by a strong two-way effort from Norman Powell, who had 29 points on 11 of 15 shooting.

The Nuggets will now return to the Mile High City for a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE, NBA TV) where they will aim to take the series lead against their division rivals.

Here are the takeaways:

Offense sputters

The Nuggets edged their worst offensive showing of the season, an 87-point clunker in a loss to the Celtics, but just barely.

With Portland’s back against the wall, the team made several adjustments with the focus on playing small and pressing more on defense. Denver couldn’t respond as it struggled to move the ball and connect on shots.

The visitors could only muster 20 assists and shot 13 of 44 from downtown. Heading into Game 5, the Nuggets will need a more assertive showing from their second-year star Michael Porter Jr. The forward took just three shots in the contest and was hitting 41.7 percent of his field goals in Games 2 and 3.

Struggling for pace

The Blazers’ most significant change was taking Enes Kanter out of the rotation and sticking with an eight-man group – playing the 6-foot-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as their backup center. Although Portland’s bench struggled to score (putting up 15 points in the first three quarters), it helped the overall team pick up its speed. As a result, the home team picked up 18 fast-break points in the opening three quarters alone while both teams still had their core units out there. While the Nuggets would ultimately score 17 fast break points, most came in the final quarter with the game already decided.

Similar to the way Portland made some adjustments in Game 4, one could imagine some changes will likely be coming for Denver in a crucial Game 5.

More physicality needed

Considering the size advantage Denver had, it was surprising to see the team beat in points in the paint 46-38 and have a narrow 59-55 lead on the boards.

While Jusuf Nurkić, who had 17 points, six boards, and two blocks, is expected to be an enforcer in the paint for Portland, the team was also boosted by other players picking up the slack. Robert Covington had a second-straight strong game on the glass, collecting nine boards after having 11 Thursday. Denver did a good job of containing Damian Lillard on defense as the star guard shot 1 of 10, but he made up for it by grabbing eight boards. In Game 5, Denver will need to ensure that it utilizes its size on both ends.