In a win or go home Game 7, the Denver Nuggets season came to an end in the form of a 100-96 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
With the loss, Portland wins the series 4-3 as Denver falls just short of reaching their first Western Conference Finals in 10 years.
In what had been an evenly matched series though six games, one area the Nuggets struggled with was getting out to a fast start. Denver had no issues with that on Sunday as they opened the game on a 14-7 run, behind two three-pointers by Nikola Jokic and a thunderous dunk from Gary Harris. Those two really set the tone for the Nuggets as they were fueled by an incredibly loud Pepsi Center crowd.
The Nuggets continued to ride that momentum as they were playing a much more efficient game offensively, while Portland struggled to make shots. Through one quarter, the Nuggets were shooting 50 percent from the field, while Portland was sitting at just 28 percent. Because of that, the Nuggets were able top jump out to an early 29-17 lead after 12 minutes of play.
Portland shot 0-of-9 from three-point range in the first quarter and their shooting did not get any better in the second period as Denver continued to dominate on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets were complimenting solid offense, with even better defense as they led 35-19 with just over nine minutes remaining in the first half.
Denver’s bench unit did a great of weathering the storm while Jokic was resting on the bench. The Nuggets second unit outscored Portland 6-2 to begin the second quarter, which allowed Jokic an elongated period of rest. With Jokic back on the floor, the Nuggets continued to dominate as they pushed their lead up to 17-points at the midway point of the second quarter.
After holding Damian Lillard scoreless for the first 17 minutes of the game, the Nuggets quickly let Portland back into the game. Lillard started the game 0-of-7 shooting from the field, but he found his rhythm by getting his points from the free-throw line. Even as Lillard was catching fire, the Nuggets still maintained a double-digit lead with 3:57 left in the half.
Portland was able to cut into that lead to close the first half — but not by much — as the Nuggets took a 48-39 lead into the halftime locker room. At the break, Jokic was Denver’s only player in double-figures with 13 points to go along with five rebounds. Murray was the next closest with nine points, while Paul Millsap (8) and Harris (7) were close as well. As a team, the Nuggets shot 41 percent from the field in the first half, while holding Portland to just 30 percent shooting and 1-of-14 from three-point range.
The Nuggets defense did a great job of making life tough on Portland’s offense, but one player Denver could not stop was CJ McCollum, who was single-handily keeping Portland in striking distance. McCollum was up to 21 points with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter as Denver’s lead still sat at 7-points.
The Trail Blazers kept chipping away as they got Denver’s lead down to 2-points with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Just like they have done all season, the Nuggets quickly responded with a 5-0 run to get their lead back up to 7-points. Portland was not going anywhere as they had their own run, which led to them outscoring Denver 32-24 in the third quarter. Still, the Nuggets took a 72-71 lead into the fourth quarter.
Denver’s once 17-point first half lead was gone as Portland had fought their way back into the game. With 12 minutes remaining, the Nuggets had to buckle down defensively and find a way to slow down McCollum, who had 29 points through three quarters. For Denver, they had to continue to play through Jokic, who was up to 21 points and nine rebounds after three periods of play.
Portland opened the fourth quarter strong as they began the period on a 10-4 run, which was highlighted by a three-pointer from Lillard. Jokic quickly responded with an and-1 lay in as the Nuggets cut Portland’s lead down to 3-points with just over eight minutes remaining in the game. Fast-forward four minutes later and the Trial Blazers held a 87-83 lead with 4:26 left in the game as it was officially gut check time for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets responded at the free-throw line, but Lillard hit a massive three-pointer with just over three minutes remaining to stretch Portland’s lead up to 7-points. Denver was not going down without a fight as they fought all the way back to make it a 1-point game with 29 seconds remaining. All Denver needed was a stop and they would have a chance to win the game on the final possession.
McCollum responded with a tough jumper as the Nuggets were down by 3-points with 11 seconds remaining. Denver had one shot to tie it and force overtime, but they got bailed out with a foul on Seth Curry as Jokic would attempt two free-throws with 11 seconds left. Jokic would make only one of his free-throws as Denver was still down 2-points and Portland now had possession of the ball.
Denver fouled Evan Turner on a shot attempt with eight seconds remaining, who made both of his free-throws to make it a two possession game. The Nuggets were now down 100-96 with eight seconds remaining, which proved to be too little of time. It would be all for not as Jokic missed a three and Portland collected the rebound to walk away with a 100-96 victory.
Stat leaders for Denver were Jokic, who had another monster game finishing with 29 points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field. The Nuggets big man also had 13 rebounds and two assists as he was phenomenal in Game 7. Other Nuggets who finished in double-figures were Murray (17), Harris (15) and Millsap (10), while McCollum led the way for Portland with 37 points.