Trail Blazers beat Nuggets in 4OT thriller in Game 3 - News Coverage

Trail Blazers beat Nuggets in 4OT thriller in Game 3

There is a pretty good chance this series goes seven games and gosh, let’s hope so. Of the four NBA playoff battles going on right now the grueling, exhausting, exhilarating war between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets might just be the best of the lot.

It is certainly the tightest. Portland squeezed out of an incredible quadruple – yes, quadruple – overtime thriller on Friday night with a 140-137 victory, to move into a 2-1 lead that doesn’t seem permanent. How could it, when it feels like every match-up between these teams is a coin flip? Given the drama that has come already, it would be incongruous if there wasn’t at least one twist to follow.

If you like your basketball fierce and scrappy and adorned with bruises worn like badges of honor, then this is for you. For three straight games now, Portland and Denver have thrown heavyweight shots at each other and they saved the biggest of them for this Moda Center scrap.

There was rarely much in it, key figures on both sides refusing to let the clash slip away from them. For the Blazers it was CJ McCollum, with one crucial basket after another, on his way to 41 points that finally gave his team what would be a critical advantage.

On the other side neither Nikola Jokic nor Jamal Murray deserved to lose. Jokic put in an extraordinary stint of 65 minutes, racking up 33 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists. He had the ball in his hands late in both regulation and the first overtime, but couldn’t make it stick. His shift was so long that it broke the stats mechanism on the NBA’s website, which understandably isn’t equipped to document playing time once it goes above an hour.

Murray, resilient through ongoing quad pain and stiffness, collected 34 points and could be forgiven for thinking he won it with two big buckets late in the fourth quarter.

But there was a fightback, of course there was, and there would be more of them to follow. Almost cruelly, the teams will do it all over again on Sunday. Ice baths and lie-ins will be needed after this.

“We wanted that game bad,” McCollum said. “We figured out a way to get it done.”

What a way.

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The second overtime saw a dramatic jump ball between the comparatively diminutive Damian Lillard and Murray in the closing seconds, the Portland man getting the crucial tip, pre-empting a timeout, while Denver angrily claimed the toss – by referee Eric Lewis – had not gone straight skywards. Moments later, Lillard had another chance for an epic playoff moment, but his three for the win drifted left.

This is not the most high-scoring of series but that’s because every shot is contested, every loose ball battled for like it was rare gold. It has detracted nothing from the drama and McCollum found the script to his liking. He pulled things level with 8.7 to go in the first overtime and was nerveless from then on, finding seemingly bottomless reserves of energy.

Some games have a defining play and a game-shifting switch in momentum. This one had too many to count. Neither of these teams are considered to have any real chance of getting past the Golden State/Houston winner to progress to the NBA Finals. Whether that is the case or not, they’ve already provided magical memories and proved beyond doubt that neither of them will be outwilled or outfought.

Late, late, laaaate into the Portland night, Denver had a chance in the third overtime that it may ultimately rue, if the Nuggets can remember it amid all the madness. Leading by two with 19 seconds to go, Murray had the ball tapped away by McCollum but felt it brush against his fingertips on the way out. Lillard tied it once more with a layup, Murray missed a long ranger, and by then Jokic had played the most minutes for a seven-footer in NBA playoff history.

As a playoff game went into a fourth overtime period for the first time since 1953, there was still nothing in it. Except that, in Rodney Hood, Portland had some fresh legs it could ride to positive effect. Hood turned a one-point deficit into a two-point lead with a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining. Hood was feeling the benefits of rest, Jokic was not. When the Serbian big man was fouled seconds later, he could not connect on his first free throw, and Denver felt things slipping away.

The Nuggets will have another chance, but to lift themselves off the canvas will take one heck of an effort. For the neutrals, transfixed deep into the night by this extraordinary game, we wait for more of the same.

 

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