The Denver Nuggets have grown used to playing seven-game series. But for once they didn’t have to go 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 love to coach each and every one. ” 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 to finish game 6 of this first-round series sooner rather than later, knowing they’d lost a Game 7 to the Blazers in their home country 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 sparked 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 compete because that’s so great ” he is.”
When asked how the Nuggets made up for the deficit in the second half, Porter gave a simple explanation: “Getting Stops and Nikola Jokic.”
It was roleplayers too, along with the rise of Porter, who gave the nuggets a boost. Porter 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 nine assists), Austin Rivers, Aaron Gordon and JaMychal Green.
“We have a lot of guys who are tough players, man,” said Porter. “Like me, I had my moment in the first half and then I cooled down. 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 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 caliber of star who 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 a feeling that anyone can be defeated, and anyone can do it. That’s why it’s even more disappointing to me, because I felt like if there’s a year you can shoulder the burden and get one, it would be this year. I definitely think he’s capable of that. “
The Nuggets move on from the first round for the third season in a row and will face the second-seeded Phoenix Suns 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 is a great win to come in here and win Game 6 on the road is great. But we are not satisfied,” said Malone. “Our goal this season was not to get out of the first half of the season. We have much bigger goals.”