Good, bad, ugly: Nuggets fall to Trail Blazers in Portland to force Game 7

Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter (00) celebrates with teammates after the game against the Denver Nuggets in game six of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center.
May 9, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter (00) celebrates with teammates after the game against the Denver Nuggets in game six of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets took a 3-2 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday evening behind one of their most dominant defensive performances of the playoffs.

Denver duo of bigs led the way as Nikola Jokic had a remarkable 25 points and 19 rebounds while Paul Millsap had a vintage 24 points and eight rebounds. When both of them are playing at such a high level, it is going to be extremely difficult to beat the Nuggets.

Denver attempted to keep that momentum rolling in Thursday’s Game 6 meeting, but could not close out the series on the road.

Portland evened the series at 3-3 and forced the Nuggets to their second-straight Game 7 in this playoff run with a convincing 119-108 win on Thursday evening. With that I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Backs against the wall

With a team full of inexperienced players in the postseason, it would seem that all pressure is on the Nuggets, but Denver has been here before.

The Nuggets are coming off of a seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs, a team that knows what it takes to win a winner-take-all game of this magnitude. Still, the Nuggets came away victorious.

While there were plenty of negatives in Thursday’s game, there were also a few things that stood out for Denver to build on.

Jokic continues to dominate. The All-Star big man had a fantastic season, but he is truly having a sensational playoff run and this was another game that he took over in.

Jokic finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds while also dishing out eight assists as well. He scored at ease, got others involved and showcased why he is one of the best players in the entire NBA this season.

Jamal Murray also stepped up giving the Nuggets 24 points and also helping out on the glass as he was Denver’s second leading rebounder with 10 rebounds.

Millsap had 17 points and Gary Harris had 15 points to balance out the starting lineup.

The Nuggets starters have played extremely well and have put themselves in positions to win each night. Denver will have to get more from their bench in Game 7 if they plan on advancing into the Western Conference Finals.

Bad – Bench unit struggles again

In an attempt to get off to a strong start, head coach Michael Malone elected to play Jokic, Murray and Harris for the entire first quarter. That decision ended up coming back to bite Denver as it broke any rhythm that the bench could have gotten in the game.

Jokic finally went out of the game after another great start and allowed the Nuggets to go into the second quarter with a comfortable lead as they led 34-26. That quickly turned around as Portland’s bench went on a run to drag Portland back into the game.

Portland rode that momentum as they started the second quarter on a tear and allowed Rodney Hood to get going. After being down by eight points after the first quarter the Trail Blazers made a push in the second quarter behind their bench unit that has really played well all series long.

Denver lost the second frame 32-20 as Portland’s offense just appeared to be too much for the Nuggets and Denver could not get anything to fall.

Denver’s bench unit went into the half with only nine points to Portland’s 22 points from their reserves and it ended up being the difference in the game.

With Lillard and McCollum doing most of the heavy lifting, and there being a game every other day, it was important for the Trail Blazers to find an extra scorer that they could rely on with much of the focus being on Portland’s best players and Rodney Hood delivered yet again.

Hood scored 14 points in the first half and carried that strong play into the second half as he finished with 25 points for the game. He knocked down three 3-pointers, multiple mid-range jump shots and finished at the rim all night.

Denver did not get anything from their reserves as Portland’s bench outscored Denver’s 42-13 by the time the game had ended.

Will Barton, Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley and Monte Morris played well throughout the regular season and were one of the league’s strongest second units, but they have seemed to hit a wall recently. Denver’s bench unit will have to dig deep and give Denver better production on both sides of the ball in the Nuggets most important game in a decade if they want to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Ugly – Lillard forces a Game 7

The Nuggets went into Thursday’s game with only one game separating them from their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 10 years and came up short.

Denver started out the game extremely hot, got solid play from their best players and fought back through runs but could not capitalize on their opportunity. As a result, Denver will head back to the Pepsi Center for their second Game 7 of their first playoff run in six seasons and a reason for that is the play of Damian Lillard.

Lillard came into the game with some incredible numbers, but he had been slowed by Denver. It is extremely difficult to lock down a player of his caliber, but the Nuggets were doing the best that they could to limit the four-time All-Star from having one of those games.

With the entire season on the line, Lillard woke up.

“Logo Lillard” was in full form as he hit open shots and controlled the game. He finished with 17 of his 32 points in the third quarter alone.

Lillard knocked down six 3-pointers and was connecting on deep bombs that made it difficult for the Nuggets to recover from.

The Nuggets needed only one win to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in a decade, but could not get it done in Portland which is now setting up for another winner-take-all night at the Pepsi Center on Sunday.

Denver has one of the best players remaining in the playoffs, was the better overall team throughout the regular season and the Nuggets have homecourt advantage. All of that sets itself up for a high-pressure situation, but if you have been following the Nuggets for the past few seasons, nothing they have done has come easy and everything that they have accomplished, they have had to work for.

Sunday could not come any sooner.

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