The Nuggets Topped The Blazers In Game 5 Despite An All-Time Performance From Damian Lillard

Considering pre-series expectations, it was fitting that the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers played the first four games of their first round matchup to a 2-2 draw. Portland picked up the most recent victory, benefitting from an offensive flop by Denver and cruising to a 20-point win in Game 4.

However, the Nuggets returned home for the often pivotal Game 5 and, in their own building, there was reason to project increased optimism for Nikola Jokic’s team. After a 58-minute war that featured heroics from Damian Lillard, the Nuggets survived and escaped with a 147-140 victory to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Denver zoomed out of the gate, with everything breaking their way in the opening minutes. The Nuggets opened with a 14-1 run that featured two three-pointers from Austin Rivers, and they seized control as a result.

Portland didn’t score until the 7:53 mark of the first quarter, converting a technical foul free throw, and they didn’t generate a field goal until there was 6:55 remaining in the opening period. The Blazers missed their first eight shots (with three turnovers) and, while they found their offense with 25 points in the final eight minutes of the first quarter, defense was also a major issue.

The Nuggets let by as many as 16 points in the opening quarter, and Denver shot 58 percent from the floor with 10 assists. In addition to easy buckets, the home team shot 7-for-13 from three and took full advantage of Portland’s porous resistance.

While the Blazers were able to cut their deficit to 10 points early in the second quarter, that uptick was short-lived. The Nuggets scored 12 straight points to take a 54-32 lead, riding back-to-back threes from reserve guard Markus Howard and holding Portland without a point for nearly three minutes.

Denver had their entire arsenal going, scoring 59 points in the first 18 minutes and shooting 61 percent from the floor. However, things flipped on a dime midway through the second quarter, with a big run coming from the Blazers just as the Nuggets endured a dry spell.

Portland scored 14 points in a row, just as Denver missed eight straight shots. The Nuggets didn’t score for more than four minutes and, simultaneously, the Blazers heated up behind Lillard.

Overall, Portland closed the first half on a 23-6 run, cutting a 20-point deficit down to three. The Blazers scored 37 points in the second quarter, including 20 from Lillard and CJ McCollum, and it was a new game as the second half arrived.

Unfortunately for Denver, the start of third quarter felt much like the end of the second. The Nuggets were whistled for five (!!) fouls in the first 82 seconds of the second half and, when the first timeout was called, Portland had tied the game for the first time since the game began.

The Nuggets did recover in the near term, taking as much as a six-point lead again in the third quarter. Then, Lillard kept things going and, when Jokic was called for a technical foul for arguing with an official with 4:05 left, Lillard converted a free throw to give Portland their first lead of the evening. The Blazers weren’t done there, using a 12-2 run to secure an 89-84 lead and completing what was a 27-point turnaround (57-30) when compared to the first half.

When the dust settled after a raucous third quarter, Portland held a two-point edge with 12 minutes remaining. In wildly entertaining fashion, the game stayed close to start the closing period, then the two teams exchanged runs. The Nuggets scored eight straight to take a 105-98 lead with fewer than eight minutes left and, before they could settle in, the Blazers answered with seven in a row to tie it with six minutes remaining.

In a bizarre sequence, Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic committed two fouls in 11 seconds, with the last violation sending him packing with six fouls. That was an enormous swing in that Nurkic is, by far, Portland’s best interior defender, and space opened up for Denver almost immediately. The Nuggets quickly took a 113-108 lead, prompting a timeout from the Blazers.

Staying on-brand for the back-and-forth nature of the game, Portland scored the next four points after the stoppage, climbing back within a 113-112 margin with 2:52 on the clock. Jokic then scored on back-to-back trips for Denver, but Robert Covington converted a three-pointer in the middle to keep Portland in touch.

Lillard and Jokic then exchanged misses with the Nuggets leading 117-115, and McCollum missed a corner three-pointer for the lead with 69 seconds remaining. Portland wasn’t in a must-foul situation, but Jokic executed a spin move, getting to the free throw line and making both with 52.1 seconds on the clock. That gave Denver a four-point cushion and, on the ensuing possession, Carmelo Anthony came up short on a three-pointer, putting the Nuggets in a favorable position.

Still, the Blazers weren’t quite done. Lillard poked the ball away from Austin Rivers at the perfect time and, seconds later, McCollum buried a three-pointer to bring Portland within one.

With the shot clock turned off, the Blazers had to foul and they did so immediately, sending Monte Morris to the line with 12.4 seconds left. The steady-handed point guard made both attempts, and the Nuggets again led by three points.

Then, even higher drama arrived. First, there was a (highly) questionable foul call assessed to Denver, which could have sent Lillard to the free throw line for three attempts.

After a challenge, the call was ruled to be on the floor, however, and the Blazers took the ball out of bounds. Seconds later, Lillard did Lillard things, knocking down the game-tying three-pointer to force overtime.

Earlier in the overtime period, Morris was tremendous, building on what was already a fantastic performance. He converted two three-pointers and, in concert with a bucket from Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets took a six-point lead.

Following another defensive stop, Rivers hit a three-pointer of his own, putting Denver ahead by a 132-123 margin. Lillard would answer with an old-fashioned three-point play on the next possession but, with the Nuggets scoring continuously, Portland was in need of another miracle and Lillard was up to the challenge.

The All-NBA point guard scored nine straight for the Blazers overall, including a pair of three-pointers within 37 seconds to shave the deficit from eight down to two with 23 seconds on the clock.

Portland did have to foul (again), and Morris split a pair of free throws with 16.5 seconds remaining. Because he didn’t make both, though, the door was cracked open and Lillard burst through it with even more heroics. Only the video could do it justice.

To begin double overtime, Lillard was seemingly infallible, scoring the first five points and banking in another deep triple to set an NBA playoff record for three-pointers.

Both teams were visibly gassed in the second overtime period, leading to some uneven play. Still, there were high-level moments, including an obscene pass from Jokic to set up a huge three-pointer from Porter Jr.

After a timeout, Portland missed a three-pointer that could have tied the game, leaving the Nuggets with another opportunity to put the game away. Jokic was unable to score on back-to-back possessions, but Portland also went begging with a missed dunk and an unforced error when McCollum stepped out of bounds with 9.1 seconds remaining. Following a review, Morris made a pair of game-sealing free throws and the marathon contest came to an end without further drama.

Denver emerged victorious and there were many heroes for the Nuggets. Jokic led the way with 38 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks in 46 minutes, with Porter Jr. adding 26 points and 12 rebounds. Morris was enormous off the bench, contributing 28 points and five assists, and the Nuggets picked up control of the series with this victory.

Still, it would be accurate to describe Lillard as the centerpiece of the night, even in defeat. He scored a playoff career high 55 points, and Lillard set an NBA Playoff record by making 12 of his 17 three-point attempts. He was also 17-for-24 from the floor and 9-for-10 from the free throw line, adding 10 assists and six rebounds to go along with his virtuoso performance.

Game 6 arrives on Thursday in Portland, with the Blazers looking to stay alive in the series. For now, though, Game 5 can be anointed as an instant classic with the highest drama, and Lillard’s effort will go down in the annals.