Blazers win ugly in Denver 112-106
It was probably their ugliest, but the Portland Trail Blazers got another win Sunday night 112-106 over the Denver Nuggets, their fourth win in five games. CJ McCollum was excellent again, finishing with 25 points and seven assists while several players were forced into new roles thanks to the worst foul trouble the team has had to deal with this season, which is saying something as one of the league’s most foul-prone teams.
The Blazers won despite allowing 48 free-throw attempts in a game that featured 80 in regulation.
But the end result was another victory without Damian Lillard in uniform, moving to 4-3 in the seven games they’ve been without him. Two of those wins were against this same Nuggets team that have been without point guard Emmanuel Mudiay for several weeks and tonight appeared to be suffering the after effects of their overtime loss to Golden State.
The Blazers were without All-Star point guard Damian Lillard for the seventh straight game Sunday when his team took on the Denver Nuggets. Lillard has been fighting plantar fasciitis for some time and coming back Monday would be two full weeks off for Lillard. The Nuggets surprisingly had Kenneth Faried in the line-up after a an injury scare on Saturday night in Golden State. It was great to see him play for the Nuggets and even score their first bucket after having seen him get carried off on a stretcher Saturday night.
McCollum made the first basket of the game for the Blazers. He scored 96 points in the last three games combined and has averaged over 26 points, 6.7 assists and six rebounds per game without Lillard coming into Sunday.
Sunday had a high-scoring start, but the Nuggets actually looked to be the more energetic team even though they’d just lost in overtime to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland the night before. The Nuggets outworked the Blazers on the offensive boards and the Blazers were lazy with the ball on the other end. But even though the Nuggets had more shots than the Blazers, the Blazers stayed close.
Rather than going immediately to Ed Davis, Stotts went to Moe Harkless alongside Meyers Leonard and Plumlee. Davis came soon after that, but it was just a small tweak in the rotation by getting Harkless in earlier in the game. Leonard’s shooting dragged Nurkic away from the basket and Harkless had a clear quickness advantage over Kostas Papanikolau on the wing.
Harkless and Gerald Henderson actually kept the Blazers going offensively while Nurkic was out muscling the Blazers on the other end. But it didn’t last long. Harkless and Henderson played well offensively also allowed Stotts to rest McCollum a little bit longer in the first half. It wasn’t until the final 3:34 that Stotts went back to McCollum and Crabbe giving his two best perimeter scorers, with Lillard still out, some valuable rest even it it wasn’t a lot of minutes.
McCollum used that energy efficiently towards the end of the half after the extended rest, scoring 11 of his 18 first half points in the final 3:34 and the Blazers went into halftime up 61-56. Stotts’ flexibility has been a major asset for the Blazers.
But although they initially extended the lead to start the second half, the Blazers offense began to struggle after the intermission. The game as a whole started to struggle but the Blazers fell behind.
The Blazers seemingly couldn’t go a single defensive possession without fouling and the Nuggets were a little bit better. Through three quarters the two teams combined to shoot 61 free-throws! It slowed the game down and made for a snooze fest for all the viewers. McCollum’s playmaking was probably the only thing that made this game watchable and Denver’s Will Barton was visibly gassed after putting forth a 50 minute effort last night against the Warriors.
Because of the foul trouble for Plumlee, Leonard, Aminu and Harkless, the Blazers were forced to turn to Noah Vonleh for an extended run and he delivered on the boards. Tim Frazier, Ed Davis and Gerald Henderson were all big factors in an important start to the fourth quarter that saw the Blazers push their lead to as high as nine before Stotts got his closers back in the game. Henderson scored 18 points.
Vonleh would stay in the game while McCollum, Crabbe and Aminu came back in the game. Vonleh kept up his energy on the boards and in looking to set screens for Portland’s scorers. In a tough spot, Vonleh delivered and looked comfortable doing it. He had eight rebounds and five points.
The Blazers led by as much as eight points with under a minute left after a Denver turnover.
And while there were more fouls, raising the end total. It was ugly but all that matters for the Blazers trying to keep pace with the teams in the lower part of the Western Conference playoff picture: it counts.
- CJ McCollum averaged over 28.6 points in Portland’s three games this week and has averaged over 30 in the last four. After the Blazers went 2-1, McCollum is as good a candidate as anybody in the Western Conference to be Player of the Week.
- Moe Harkless played well in the first half, scoring 10 points early on, but foul trouble ended his night prematurely. As you just read, several other Blazers can tell the same story.
- Damian Lillard took the opportunity to interview his teammates after the game.
- The Blazers are scheduled take on the Memphis Grizzlies Monday at the Moda Center. Weather has called games in Portland (and other cities) before, but we’ve heard no indication that this game won’t happen. These two teams faced twice in November, with the Blazers blowing out the Grizzlies at home and then losing on a Zach Randolph buzzer-beater in Memphis. At 18-17, the Grizzlies are 6th in the West but appear to be undergoing some kind of identity crisis. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are bench players now, their defense has slipped and their offense has cratered. In years past, this would be a daunting game for the Blazers. But even on the second night of a back-to-back, this game is probably looks like the most winnable out of a stretch of home games against tough Western Conference teams.