Nuggets beat Trail Blazers for fifth-straight win

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) loses control of the basketball as he is guarded by Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half at Moda Center.
Nov 30, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) loses control of the basketball as he is guarded by Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets opened a five-game road trip with a big time 113-112 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

With the win, Denver’s record moves to 15-7, which is good for second place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets have now won five straight games and sit just a half game behind the first place Los Angeles Clippers.

In a matchup of Western Conference rivals, the Nuggets and Trail Blazers took center stage as the national TV finale for Friday night on ESPN. Neither team would disappoint as both teams came out firing and showcased an extreme amount of offensive firepower. Before the seven minute mark of the first quarter, the score was 16-15 in favor of the Nuggets as both teams started 7-of-9 shooting from the field.

The Nuggets scoring opened from a Paul Millsap three-pointer before two threes from Juancho Hernangomez really set the offensive tone for the rest of the night. Denver also had good news before the ball was even tipped as starting shooting guard Gary Harris made his return after a two game absence with left ankle soreness. Harris immediately made his presence felt as he made a driving layup in the games opening minutes and followed it up with an and-one basket with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.

Harris’ play was the start of an 11-2 run for the Nuggets that allowed them to extend their lead to 25-17 with 5:04 remaining in the first quarter. After a few Portland baskets, the Nuggets would go on yet another run and before you knew it they had a 33-21 lead with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. The hot start from Harris continued as he poured in 11 first quarter points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line.

The hot shooting would only continue for the Nuggets as they finished the quarter 13-of-21 from the field to give them a 38-26 lead after the games first 12 minutes. Denver also shot 5-of-8 from distance in the opening period, with Harris and Hernangomez leading the charge with two a piece.

With the Nuggets second unit coming in to begin the second quarter, the bench group was at it again as Monte Morris led the charge for Denver’s offense. Midway though the second quarter, Morris had seven points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field with one of those makes coming from behind the arc. The spark from Morris pushed Denver’s lead to 51-36 with 7:05 left before halftime. The Nuggets bench already had 14 points at that point in the game and did a great job keeping the momentum on Denver’s side with the starters on the bench.

That momentum slowly went in Portland’s favor though as the Trail Blazers went on a 9-2 run to cut the Nuggets lead to 53-45 with 3:52 left before halftime.¬†Portland’s momentum was short lived though as the Nuggets closed the half on a 15-8 run to give them a 68-53 lead at the half. The biggest reason for that Nuggets run? The play from Nikola Jokic. At the three minute mark of the second quarter, Jokic went to work offensively and was scoring at will in the post. Jokic finished the first half with 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the field to go along with four rebounds and two assists.

It was not just Jokic who had a big first half though as Millsap led the team in scoring at the break with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, 2-of-2 from three-point range. Another notable stat line came from Harris, who finished the half with 14 points on a solid 5-of-11 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from behind the three-point line.

Denver finished the first half shooting 25-of-48 from the field and an incredible 9-of-15 from three. Portland also had a solid shooting first half going 21-of-38 from the field, but the Nuggets were able to hold them to just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc.

With the Nuggets trying to start their road trip on the right foot, the recipe had to be the same for the second half: continue to score the basketball, defend, and walk away with a big time victory. The Nuggets were doing just that to begin the second half, but the Trail Blazers started to score the ball better and opened the half on a 5-0 run to cut their deficit to single digits.

A few baskets from Jokic, Millsap, and Harris got the Nuggets offense going, but Portland still stayed in the game as Denver lead just 77-68 with 6:42 left in the quarter. Even when the Nuggets had a fairly decent lead, it always seemed like the game was in reach for Portland and that became even clearer when they cut the lead to seven with four minutes remaining in the third.

Denver would immediately ramp up their offensive efficiency though as a Harris three pointer and Morris lay up got the Nuggets lead back up to 10 points with 3:03 left in the third quarter. Portland was still able to cut that lead all the way down to three points in the closing seconds of the third, before a Trey Lyles three at the buzzer gave Denver a six point lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets would end up being outscored 32-23 in the third quarter and took a 91-85 lead going into the final period with the opportunity¬†still there to steal a major road win. The only way the Nuggets would be able to do that was if the second unit played in the fourth quarter like they have done all season, which is exactly what they did. The unit of Morris, Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley, and Trey Lyles came up huge to start the fourth as they went on a 5-2 run to push Denver’s lead back to nine with 10 minutes left in the game.

Just when it seemed like Denver might pull away, Portland was once again there to answer the call as they went on a 6-0 run to cut the Nuggets lead back to three. Just when the Nuggets needed a response, Morris was there to answer the call as he drilled a huge three-pointer and helped push the Nuggets lead to 105-97 with just under four minutes to play.

Portland immediately went on a 5-0 run though, before a Harris floater gave Denver a 107-101 lead with 2:15 remaining in the game. A back and fourth minute of play saw the Nuggets lead cut to two before a CJ McCollum jumper tied the game at 108 with 55 seconds left in the game. A couple free-throws by Jamal Murray and a lay up from McCollum tied the game at 110 with 37 seconds to play and the Nuggets having a chance to go two-for-one.

The Nuggets would take out most of the shot clock though, but it was worth it after Jokic found a wide open Harris in the corner for a big time three-pointer. That gave Denver a 113-110 lead with 16 seconds remaining in the game and the Nuggets in need of just one more stop defensively. Portland would make a lay up with 10 seconds remaining and after the basket they immediately forced a turnover as Murray was called out of bounds to give the ball back to Portland. The play would go under review though with the officials deciding that Murray did not step out and that the Nuggets would have the ball, up one point, with six seconds left in the game.

With the Nuggets forced to inbound again, Murray did step out of bounds this time to give Portland a chance to win the game with five seconds remaining. Denver would get the stop they needed though as a McCollum jumper fell just short at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a 113-112 victory on the road.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Harris, who finished as the teams leading scorer with 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the field to go along with three rebounds and three assists. Millsap also had a big night for Denver finishing with 22 points on an efficient 9-of-16 shooting from the field. Other stat lines of note came from Morris, who had 16 points off the bench on an almost perfect 7-of-8 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line. Jokic also had a good night for Denver finishing with 15 points, eight assists, and six rebounds.

The Nuggets now have two days off before they are back in action Monday night in Toronto to face the Raptors.