In Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Denver Nuggets suffered a 97-90 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
With the loss, Denver and Portland’s series is even at 1-1, while the Trail Blazers have stolen back home court advantage courtesy of their win on Wednesday night. The Nuggets will now have to win three out of their next five games against Portland if they want to advance to their first Western Conference Finals since 2009.
After an incredibly high scoring Game 1, both teams were looking to build on that Wednesday night. For Denver, they received a great start from Gary Harris, who scored six of Denver’s first 10 points. Portland was riding the strong play of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard early on as the Trail Blazers held an early 14-10 lead with 5:48 left in the opening quarter.
Portland came out of the gates firing as they began the game much better defensively. After allowing 121 points in Game 1, the Trail Blazers looked like a team on a mission as they played with tremendous energy from the opening tip. Because of that, Portland led 28-23 through one quarter of play.
It would not get any easier for Denver to start the second quarter as they suffered a big injury when Torrey Craig was forced to exit the game. After taking a tough shot to the face, Craig had to leave the game with a nasal contusion, which left the Nuggets without their best defender. Craig was putting together a defensive clinic on Lillard and was a big loss for Denver in what he provides them defensively and from an energy standpoint.
The Trail Blazers on the other hand were running and gunning as their lead was suddenly 13-points with 5:23 left in the first half. Denver’s biggest problem in the second quarter was just scoring the basketball as they only scored a total of 15 points in the period. The Nuggets finished the first quarter with a 45 percent field goal percentage, which was down to 32 percent at halftime.
At the break, Portland held a 50-35 lead as Denver was going to need a monster second half to pick up the victory. Harris led the Nuggets offensively at the half with eight points as Denver had no players in double-figures. One player that Portland did a phenomenal job of containing through two quarters was Nikola Jokic, who had just six points, eight rebounds, and three assists at halftime.
If the Nuggets were going to get back into the game, they had to have a quick spurt out of the halftime locker room. They got that courtesy of a Malik Beasley dunk — who filled in with the starters for Craig — but the Nuggets still could not slow down Portland’s offense. The two teams were exchanging baskets, which was advantage Trail Blazers considering they held a double-digit lead.
This trend continued throughout the third quarter as the Nuggets kept inching their way back into the game. Every time that happened the Trail Blazers would go on a mini-run, which put a huge damper on Denver’s momentum. Even as the Nuggets outscored Portland in the third quarter (29-28) they still trailed by 14-points as they were down 78-64 with 12 minutes to play.
For the Nuggets, they did have a little momentum as they went into the fourth quarter, courtesy of a remarkable return from Craig. After being diagnosed with a nasal contusion in the first half, Craig returned with a mask on and was doing everything in his power to help Denver pull off the comeback. Those chances were looking slim as the fourth quarter wore on as Portland led 86-71 with 9:20 left in the game.
Denver was not done battling as they quickly cut the Trail Blazers lead to 9-points, but they had to worry about another thing as Jokic picked up his fifth foul with 6:55 left to play. The Pepsi Center crowd was slowly starting to believe as Denver made it a 7-point game with just over four minutes remaining. With the crowd fully behind them, the Nuggets had a chance if they could just put together a solid four minutes on both ends of the floor.
Coming out of a timeout, McCollum hit a three to give Portland a double-digit lead once again, which Jamal Murray followed up with a triple of his own on Denver’s next possession. Portland held that same 7-point lead for over a minute, until a Rodney Hood three made it a 94-84 game with 2:01 remaining. Denver answered with a quick 6-1 run, which made it a 5-point game with just over 30 seconds left in the game. After a Jokic missed three-pointer, the Trail Blazers were able to make some free-throws en route to picking up a 97-90 victory to steal Game 2.
Stat leaders for Denver were Beasley, who had a great night off the bench with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field to go along with two three-pointers. Other Nuggets who finished in double-figures were Murray (15), Paul Millsap (14) — who also recorded 11 rebounds — Harris (12), and Jokic (16) to go along with 14 rebounds and seven assists.
Denver and Portland now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Friday night for Game 3. That game will take place in Portland, with tip off set for 8:30 pm MDT.