Nuggets lose Game 3 to Portland in what was an instant classic

Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) dunks over Portland Trail Blazers in the first half of game three of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center.
May 3, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) dunks over Portland Trail Blazers in the first half of game three of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

After a deflating loss at home in Game 2, the Denver Nuggets suddenly found themselves in the danger zone. They had given away their homecourt advantage with their loss in Game 1 to the Portland Trail Blazers, but their level of confidence remained high.

If the Nuggets wanted to put themselves back in the drivers seat for the second round of the playoffs, they need to win one of the next two games in Portland. Their first chance to do so came on Friday night.

After 48 minutes of regulation and a four overtime periods, the Nuggets fought, but lost 140-137.

The Nuggets struggles shooting the basketball from Game 2 seemed to follow them from Denver to Portland and that issue reared its ugly head in the first quarter of Game 3. Denver missed 15 of their 23 shots taken in the first quarter and only hit 1-of-8 3-pointers.

While the Nuggets were missing every open shot they created, the Trail Blazers were inhaling rebounds which just doubled down on Denver’s issues. Portland had six offensive rebounds in the first quarter and they had eight more rebounds than the Nuggets had after 12 minutes of play.

Still, with Denver shooting just 34.8% from the field and missing seven of eight 3-pointers, there was almost no chance of them grabbing first quarter lead. By the time the first frame ended, Denver trailed 23-17.

The second quarter did not provide a reprieve. From the end of the first quarter through the start of the second quarter, the Nuggets were unable to make a field goal over five minutes of game time. Somehow, Denver remained within striking distance and that was all because of their defensive fight.

Even as Denver’s shots continued to roll out despite them being wide open looks, the Nuggets battled on defense to keep the game close. That is a big difference for the Nuggets this season; they can win games with defense or offense. Despite shooting below 40% from the field and under 30% from three-point range, the Nuggets managed to tie up the game at 35 points apiece with just about four minutes left before halftime and then took a lead just about 20 seconds later on a Jamal Murray pull-up three-pointer in transition.

Finally, after a game and a half of awful shot making, the Nuggets’ shooters finally caught fire. Malik Beasley had two 3-pointers in the second quarter while Murray added a pair of triples as well. Portland also got some shots to fall from the likes of Seth Curry and CJ McCollum, which made the second quarter a much more enjoyable and less frustrating affair.

Denver ended up winning the second quarter 30-25, but they still carried a one-point deficit into halftime down 48-47.

To begin the third quarter, the Nuggets came out with urgency and intention. Murray hit back-to-back jumpers, JOkic nailed a big-time 3-pointer, and then Jokic threw a dime to Torrey Craig for another layup to jump out to a 9-2 run in the first two minutes of the third quarter which gave Denver a lead.

From that point forward, it became a heavyweight slugfest. Both Denver and Portland continued to trade buckets and defensive stops and neither team was able to create any sizable separation.

Then disaster struck as Denver’s bench unit entered the game. Denver’s reserves allowed the Blazers to go on a 13-2 run which allowed Portland to open up a 10-point lead.

Still, as the Nuggets have done all year, they continued to rely on their superstar in Jokic to carry them through their tough stretches and he did exactly that. Jokic hit a couple of 3-pointers and continued to attack the rim relentlessly. Without the fight Jokic showed, Denver would not have entered the fourth and final quarter with an opportunity to win the game.

As the third quarter came to an end, the Nuggets only had five points separating them and the Trail Blazers as they went into the fourth quarter trailing 81-76.

To start the fourth quarter, the Nuggets got 3-pointers from both Beasley and Will Barton to help jumpstart their offense. From there, Jokic took over. He just kept getting downhill, was attacking all of Portland’s bigs off the dribble, and grabbing seemingly every single available rebound.

The Nuggets desperately needed their star to carry them in the fourth quarter and he did so, but as it has been throughout the playoffs, Jokic has needed supplemental help to win postseason games. Barton showed up with a huge block and a couple threes in the fourth quarter. Harris continued playing spectacular defense and was grabbing steals left and right. Everyone was chipping in somehow and it is why Denver was able to tie the game at 93 points with just over five minutes left in regulation.

In the final five minutes, the game was an absolute grind. It was clear that both teams were exhausted, but Denver kept finding ways to produce buckets at the end of the shot clock. Murray hit two incredibly tough setback jumpers, one of which was a 3-pointer.

But Portland was not done. Moe Harkless hit a 3-pointer and also hit a layup prior to Damian Lillard coming down the floor to hit a floater to take back the lead 102-100 with just 31.6 seconds left in the game.

Then, Will Barton had a great baseline cut and make a layup at the rim to tie the game at 102 points apiece. Denver then had 1.8 seconds left to try and win the game, but were unable to convert sending the game to overtime.

Murray started the overtime period with a floater and then Jokic fouled Lillard has which led to a lengthy review on if the foul was flagrant. The call ended up being called a common foul, but Jokic, who was already past 45 minutes at that point, got some much-needed extended rest.

Then Murray came through in a huge way as he has done is all of the Nuggets playoff wins. He stroked a huge 3-pointer to take the game at 107 with under two minutes left in overtime. Then Millsap hit a tough runner in the paint to give Denver a two-point lead with 47 second left to play.

Still, the Trail Blazers continued battling just as Denver did. After Lillard missed a layup, McCollum ended up coming through with a floater to tie the game at 109. There was just 8.7 seconds left and Denver had the ball looking to win Game 3.

The Nuggets got the ball into Jokic, but he missed his triple to send Game 3 to double overtime.

In double overtime, after playing 29 straight minutes prior to tip, Jokic was beyond exhausted. He was struggling to get past his defender and his jumper was no longer falling. Without Jokic being able to carry the Nuggets, their offense began to break down.

That is when Lillard smelled blood in the water and did what he has always done; hit gigantic shots from incredible distances. Lillard’s 30-foot triple gave Portland a 116-111 with 2:47 left in double overtime.

Then Denver answered with a couple buckets of their own including a huge 3-pointer by Barton and a floater by Millsap to tie the game. Barton continually kept coming up huge for Denver as he followed up his triple with a massive block as well.

Then McCollum and Harris traded buckets to keep the game tied at 118.

Then, as Denver went for the win, they missed a shot and Murray got an offensive rebound, but got tied up with Lillard and the play ended in a jump ball with six seconds left that Portland won. That gave the Trail Blazers the ball with left 4.1 seconds left on the clock.

After Lillard missed another shot at the buzzer, the second overtime period came to an end with both teams tied at 118.

To start triple overtime, McCollum kept hitting tough shots to keep Portland above water. On the other end, Harris showed up in a huge way and hit a gigantic three, but that triple was answered with a 5-0 run by just McCollum alone.

After the timeout, Jokic came back in and hit a huge layup out of the post to bring Denver’s deficit down to two points. That is when Barton showed up once again as he sliced into the lane and hit both free throws after getting fouled to tie the game. Barton was the X-factor for the Nuggets in Game 3 and without him, Denver would have lost the game much earlier than triple overtime.

Denver then got a stop and Murray ended up drawing a foul on the next possession. He hit both free throws to give Denver a 127-125 lead, but then Harris fouled out just seconds later.

For the last minute of triple overtime, Denver would be without Harris, but Millsap wasn’t worried as he hit one of the toughest fadeaway jumpers of the game to push Denver’s lead to four points with 31.8 seconds left in the game.

The Nuggets let Lillard score a quick two instead of letting a three-point shooter get loose, but then Murray lost the ball out of bounds after McCollum knock the ball out of his hands giving Portland a chance to tie the game with 18.8 seconds left.

That is when Lillard blew by Torrey Craig to tie the game at 129 points leaving just 8.4 seconds left for the Nuggets to try and steal a triple-overtime win.

Jamal Murray tried to take a Logo Lillard shot and failed to convert. To quadruple overtime the Nuggets and Trail Blazers went.

As the fourth overtime period began, it was clear that both teams were barely able to stand. The one player who looked ok? Will Barton.

Barton continued to save the Nuggets season. He scored the first five points of the fourth overtime period and gave Denver a two-point lead with two minutes left. But if the rest of this obnoxiously long postgame taught you, the reader, anything, it is that Portland was not done yet.

That is when Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts inserted Rodney Hood and his fresh legs into the game and he rewarded his coach with four quick points, but Millsap would not be denied as he went down the floor and hit a tough left-handed layup to give Denver a 136-135 lead with 27.6 seconds left.

Still, Hood was not nearly as exhausted as everyone else on the floor. That is why he was able to step up and hit a 3-pointer with 17.8 seconds left to give Portland a two-point lead.

With just under 18 seconds left, Denver had one last chance. Jokic called for the ball, made his move, and drew a foul, but made only one of his two free throws to keep Portland ahead by one point.

With 5.6 seconds left, Denver had to try to go for a steal and then foul, but neither happened as the Nuggets out Lillard who leaked into the backcourt to waste off two seconds.

Denver ran out of time and ended up losing 140-137 in the fourth overtime. They battled all game, but it just did not matter.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets were led by Jokic who had 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists in an insane 65 minutes played. Murray carried the rest of the scoring load with 34 points and five assists. For Portland, McCollum carried the load as he put up 41 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Next, Denver will stay in Portland to take on the Trail Blazers for Game 4 of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. That game will tip of at 5pm MDT on Sunday, May 5th.

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