The Denver Nuggets have grown used to playing seven series of games. But for once they didn’t need the distance as they finished the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday with a 126-115 win in six.
“I love our team. I love every player in this locker room, one to seventeen,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “We keep finding ways to win. Last year, this year, people don’t know what injuries we’re missing out on, so I couldn’t be more proud of a group of players I really enjoy coaching every day.” . “
The Nuggets did it on the road, avoiding any clutch-time magic from Damian Lillard by keeping the Blazers down to just 14 points in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets felt the urgency of the game to get it done sooner rather than later, knowing they’d lost a Game 7 in their home country to the Blazers two seasons ago.
“Nobody tries to see Damian Lillard, one of the toughest players of all time, in a Game 7,” said Nuggets striker Michael Porter Jr.
It’s been a remarkable run for the Nuggets as they’ve found answers in unlikely places at every turn without two of their best players, Jamal Murray and Will Barton, both injured. They naturally relied on the alleged MVP Nikola Jokic, who again triggered a 14-point comeback in the second half and scored 20 of his 36 points in the third quarter.
“That’s why he’s the clear MVP,” said Malone. “Because you can take anyone on our team when we have Nikola you could put me, Wes Unseld, Ryan Bowen, Charles Klask, whoever you want out there, we’ll find a way to keep up because that’s so great” he is.”
When asked how the Nuggets made up the deficit in the second half, Porter Jr. gave a simple explanation: “Getting Stops and Nikola Jokic,” he said.
It was the role-players, too, along with the rise of Porter Jr., who gave the Nuggets a boost. Porter Jr. set the tone early, scoring 22 points in an electric first quarter when Jokic dealt with lazy problems. After Jokic settled in in the third quarter, the Nuggets took big punches and big games from Monte Morris (22 points and 9 assists), Austin Rivers, Aaron Gordon and JaMychal Green.
“We have a lot of guys who are tough players, man,” said Porter Jr .. “Like me, I had my moment in the first half and then I cooled off, I don’t think I scored [the rest of the game]. Then Jokic obviously took over, but like Austin and AG had their moments, and Monte, J-Myke – we just have a lot of guys who are capable. “
However, Jokic is the linchpin and only became the second player ever (Dirk Nowitzki the other in 2002) with an average of 30 points and 10 rebounds in 50% shots and 40% out of 3 in a playoff series. He got his 36 in Game 6 despite not scoring a goal in the first quarter.
“In the first quarter I wasn’t even that aggressive. I didn’t want to force it,” said Jokic. “How why? [try] to force when I have a really good scorer? So why should I maybe piss him off or whatever, piss him off so I can sacrifice myself for a few minutes or a quarter. “
Jokic and Lillard dueled each other throughout the series, with both putting historical performances together. But in Game 6, Jokic beat Lillard 27-9 in the second half when the Portland streak slipped. Lillard has already endorsed Jokic as an MVP several times, reiterating his opinion after Game 6, but even went so far as to say that he believes Jokic is the star caliber that could take Denver all the way to the mountain this season.
“He’s everything to her,” Lillard said of Jokic. “I think if it was a year like him doing for this team that could lead his team to a championship, it would be this year because it is so open. There is no favorite. At least in my eyes, I have that Feeling that anyone can be hit and anyone can do it, so it’s even more disappointing to me because I felt if there is a year where you can shoulder the burden and get one, it was this one definitely think he is capable of it. “
The Nuggets move on from the first round for the third season in a row and will compete against the Phoenix Suns as the runner-up player in the second round. But after a run to the final of the Western Conference a year ago in the bubble, the Nuggets are not content to just conquer Lillard and the Blazers.
“I just told our team that it would be a hell of a win to come in here and win Game 6 on the road, but we are not satisfied,” Malone said of the first round. We have much bigger goals. “