There’s no arguing that the first round of this year’s playoffs was a contentious contest for the Trail Blazers, but boy howdy, this semi-finals bout against the Denver Nuggets is proving to be just as heated. The Blazers’ game two win on Wednesday in Denver was literally a bloody one. Torrey Craig broke his nose after some contact with Zach Collins and had to be hustled off the court because of the gore. Enes Kanter took a shot to the beak as well and ended up leaking some blood too. It was a rough game, so you can expect the rest of this series to be just as ravenous and cutthroat.
The Blazers are certainly down for the battle. Most teams change their play drastically when the playoffs are afoot, and the Blazers have been no exception. Defensively, the Blazers might look the best they have in years. They’ve been clamping down smart and hard on Denver from wire to wire. The Blazers held the Nuggets to a measly 12 points in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game. No shot went uncontested, and no loose ball - or contained ball for that matter - was safe from their sticky fingers. It’s a pleasure to see the Blazers go all out on both ends of the court. Ideally, they’ll keep it up.
Last night’s game three meet-up with the Nuggets showed that the Blazers have the stamina to stay in the fight. They say a playoff series doesn’t really begin until a team wins one on the road. The Blazers accomplished that, but what does it mean when a team wins in quadruple overtime? The first quadruple overtime in playoff history since 1953? Coach Terry Stotts put it best to start his postgame press conference, “I have no idea what happened in the first half of the second half, or the first three overtimes. It was a hell of a game… an amazing effort by both teams.” Blazers won in an impressive and HIGHLY stressful fashion, 140-137, putting the Blazers up 2-1 in the series.
The game was a bruiser right out of the gate. Sneaky elbows were flying, bodies were banging and rolling across the court, and the officials clearly had no idea how to deal with it. Tons of contact went uncalled for the first six minutes of the quarter. Both teams seemed to be testing the waters to see how much they could get away with. The Blazers stayed relatively composed and didn’t do too much jaw-flapping at the officials. They just kept their heads down and continued to play wise defense. They took a six point lead into the second quarter.
The Blazers could not get the three ball to fall to save their lives in the second. They were 2-11 with four minutes left in the half. The Blazers lead got as high as ten, but clanging off all those threes allowed the Nuggets to close the gap and take a one point lead. Despite their shrinking lead, the Blazers kept up the fight. It is truly amazing to see how stoic the Blazers have been in this playoff run. They were able to lean in and get themselves a one point lead going into the second half.
The Nuggets took control to start the third. The Blazers still couldn’t get the three ball to find the net. That is, until Kanter tried his hand at one and drained it. It’s always cringe-worthy watching a big man toss up a three, whether they have the ability to hit those shots or not. After Kanter broke the seal, Collins, Rodney Hood, and Damian Lillard were all finally able to get a three through the hoop. The Blazers boosted their lead back up to as much as ten, and maintained it into the final quarter.
CJ McCollum turned it on in the fourth doubling his point total, but the Nuggets had an answer for everything. Throughout the fourth the score would tie, go up two, down two, back and forth, back and forth. The stress was unbearable. Every possession was as important as the next, but neither team could get themselves more than a one possession lead. So, it was no surprise that when regulation expired, the score was tied and the game headed into overtime.
After that, it was all a blur of forehead slapping, hair pulling, and white knuckled terror for four, count them, FOUR overtime periods. There was little to no rotation for the starting line-up for either team. Each team was trying desperately to get a foothold and get enough momentum to take off with a good lead, all the while grappling with extreme exhaustion. The Nuggets' Nikola Jokic would end up logging just shy of 65 minutes on the court—a playoff record.
In the fourth and final overtime period, Maurice Harkless ended up informing Stotts that he was cramping up and needed to sit. Enter a fresh and ready Hood, primed to take care of business. It was a big three from Hood that would finally give the Blazers a two possession lead that they were able to hold and finish off the Nuggets.
In the postgame press conference, Hood offered up some words about how he felt with the stress of taking the court in the fourth and final overtime period.
“I was telling Gary Trent, if I got a chance, I was gonna end it. I felt like the game needed fresh energy and I could make a difference. I was excited I went back in.”
Even though the Nuggets dropped the epic game to the Blazers, coach Michael Malone knew their win was nothing to scoff at.
“If I was at home watching this game tonight, I would have been glued to my TV. This was a great basketball game. It wasn’t pretty at all times, but the effort [and] competitive spirit from both groups was outstanding.”
Dame had some similar thoughts in the press conference.
“Each overtime it seemed like one team had the edge and was gonna close it out. We was coming to the bench saying, “It’s two teams fighting for their season.” Nobody said it was gonna be pretty, nobody said it was gonna be easy. The team that was willing to go a little bit deeper was gonna win the game.”
The Blazers definitely went deep in last night’s win. With a hard fought victory in a game that was essentially one and a half games, the Blazers showed they are a championship quality team. Western Conference Finals, the Blazers are coming for you….