Denver Nuggets 126, Portland Trail Blazers 115: Three takeaways
Before Game 6, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone stressed the need for his team to be in attack mode to avoid a win or go home situation against the Trail Blazers in a potential Game 7.
“Their players are not going to go quietly into that good night,” he warned in his pregame press conference.
They would heed his call with a dominant second half in an impressive 126-115 comeback win over the Trail Blazers in front of a hostile crowd in Portland.
The Nuggets fell behind by as many as 14, but just like their season, they refused to give up. As a result, Malone’s team is heading to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Denver went on a 20-6 run between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 102-101 lead – it's first since the first quarter. The visitors would outscore the home team by a stunning 28-14 in the final 12 minutes to book their ticket to the next round.
Nikola Jokić was the engine behind the Nuggets’ 24 minutes of brilliance, pouring in 27 of his 36 points in the second half to go along with eight rebounds and six assists on 59.1 percent shooting. The center was one of six players for Denver to put up double-digits in the contest. Damian Lillard, once again, paced Portland with 28 points and 13 assists.
The Nuggets will now await the winner of the Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers to determine their opponent in the second round.
Here are the takeaways:
MVP steps up again
Jokić got off to a slow start due to getting into foul trouble in the first quarter. He would more than makeup for it in the second half.
Portland had no answers for Jokić, who shot 9 of 15 in the last two quarters in the contest. The all-world center was on attack mode, countering everything thrown his way. When the Trail Blazers threw double-teams in the post, he would find spots in the mid-range or hit a three. He also got to the line eight times in that stretch and hit all of his attempts. His aggressiveness literally took Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers’ defensive anchor, out of the contest. Portland’s center picked up four fouls in 10 minutes in the third quarter.
Jokić also made several key defensive plays down the stretch and dished out three of his assists in the second half. Another strong night from the league’s best player this season.
Michael Porter Jr. also deserves credit for holding the fort when Jokić dealt with his early struggles. The second-year forward dropped an incredible 22 points in the first quarter, before finishing with 26.
Morris, bench provides spark
Monte Morris was another player who started slowly but would prove his resiliency in the second half.
The Nuggets reserve playmaker shot just 2 of 8 in the first half but found his rhythm in the third quarter – going 3 of 4. Morris’ confidence was evident when he dribbled almost the length of the court before draining a buzzer-beating three to cut Denver’s deficit to just three. Morris kept on attacking in the fourth and would finish the night with 22 points and nine assists. His efforts in Denver’s last two outings are a significant reason why the team was able to find the edge against a star-studded Portland backcourt.
His performance also sparked a bench unit that struggled to find itself in the first half. The Nuggets reserves scored just 12 points in the first half but would finish the night outscoring the Blazers’ reserves 34-25.
JaMychal Green deserves credit for another solid outing, putting up a near double-double with 10 points and nine boards and playing strong defense.
Aaron Gordon comes through
This is why the Nuggets traded for the versatile former Orlando Magic star. Gordon’s numbers might not immediately call attention, he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, but it was the timing of several of his plays that would prove pivotal. His three-pointer with 52.7 remaining was a perfect example.
Jokić would drive to the lane drawing an extra defender. The play would leave Gordon wide open on the right corner. Jokić dished out and his teammate responded by coolly hitting the shot from downtown. The moment was backbreaking for the Blazers, who saw their deficit extent to nine points with less than a minute remaining.
When Gordon arrived in the Mile High City, he spoke of the excitement of having a chance to play for a team with sights on an NBA title. Thursday, he proved he can potentially play a vital part in that.