Teams that win Game 5 in a series that’s tied 2-2 have gone on to take said series 82 percent of the time. If that’s the case, it sure looks like the Denver Nuggets will be playing in the Western Conference Finals.
Hosting the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, Denver had its way throughout the evening. From Paul Millsap’s red-hot start to Nikola Jokic’s continued excellence, Denver dominated at nearly every turn in a 124-98 win.
These are among the biggest takeaways from the Nuggets’ victory over Damian Lillard and the Blazers Tuesday night.
Blazers starting frontcourt struggled big time
A game that saw Damian Lillard get it going to an extent did not include Portland’s supporting cast in the frontcourt step up. The starting trio of Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless and Enes Kanter were complete non-factors on offense.
The three combined for 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting and were a combined minus-56 when on the court. Say what you want about Lillard and C.J. McCollum not stepping up, this lack of a supporting cast hurt Portland in a big way.
Paul Millsap provides Nuggets with a major punch
This former All-Star connected on 7-of-10 shots en route to scoring 19 points in the first half. That was more than the 14.4 points Millsap was averaging in the playoffs heading into Tuesday night. It also included a four-point play to put Denver up 65-45 late in the second.
Millsap finished the evening with 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He completely outplayed the number of Blazers players that were tasked with guarding him, including a normally solid defender in that of Aminu.
Lack of ball movement killed Portland
The Blazers were simply relying on Lillard and McCollum to do their thing from the perimeter. In addition to a lack of ball movement, Portland’s offensive sets were miserable throughout the game. This is as much on head coach Terry Stotts as it is on the players.
When all was said and done Tuesday night in Denver, the Blazers had put up 19 assists on 36 made field goals. That has to be considered the primary reason this team shot 37% from the field.
Seth Curry couldn’t duplicate Game 4 success
Despite losing Game 4, Portland got a boost from the lesser Curry. He scored 16 points and connected on 4-of-6 shots from distance. That included three consecutive treys late in the second quarter. It was good enough to keep that game close.
With Lillard and McCollum failing to really dominate the Nuggets’ backcourt (more on that later), the hope was that Curry could rekindle said success. He didn’t. The veteran guard scored exactly seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. He was held scoreless before the game was decided heading into the final stanza.
Nuggets backcourt held its own
Outside of maybe taking on Houston or Golden State, the Blazers’ backcourt should always have a relatively healthy advantage. Should that not come to fruition, Stotts and Co. are going to lose. This is a story we saw repeat itself Tuesday night.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combined for 34 points on 12-of-28 shooting while turning the ball over just one time. Meanwhile, McCollum and Lillard went for 34 points on 14-of-37 shooting. Both Murray and Harris were north of plus-25 when on the court. Their counterparts in Portland? Minus-20. That’s the story here.
Nikola Jokic’s quiet magic
The triple-double show might not have continued Tuesday night. In no way does this mean Jokic didn’t perform well. With the crowd in Denver chanting “MVP,” this dude went for 25 points, 19 rebounds and six assists in yet another brilliant performance.
Whether it was Kanter or another big off the bench, Portland had no answer for Jokic’s beautiful overall game. And it has Denver on the brink of a Western Conference Finals appearance.