The Trail Blazers found themselves in a three-point shootout on opening night at Moda Center Wednesday.
And it was a serious mismatch.
The Denver Nuggets put an end to Portland’s 18-game home-opener win streak by outscoring the Blazers by 33 points from the three-point line, pulling away over the last five minutes for a 108-100 victory.
The Blazers had a one-point lead with 4:59 to go and trailed by only one with 3:51 left before Nikola Jokic popped open for two wide-open threes to hike the lead to seven, digging a hole for the home team it couldn’t climb out of.
Jokic had been held under control all night by Hassan Whiteside, who did an outstanding job of defending him on the inside but didn’t get out to him on those three-point shots. Jokic scored 16 of his 20 points in the final quarter. He played only 3:45 of the first half because of foul trouble but Portland didn’t capitalize much in his absence.
But the game was decided – like so many these days in the NBA – at the three-point line. Portland managed to hit just 7-28 from distance while the Nuggets were 18-32. It’s almost impossible to win a game with that sort of long-range disparity and halfway amazing the Blazers stayed as close as they did, considering they also had 20 turnovers.
The Blazers got little offensive help from their bench. The reserves were 6-22 from the field, including 0-7 from long range.
“Well, obviously, it’s disappointing to lose a home opener,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “The other obvious thing is the three-point shot is the great equalizer.”
It didn’t equalize anything Wednesday night, it decided it.
“They shot it really well,” Stotts said. “… the way the game is going, we’ve got to be able to defend the three better. That was a concern in the preseason and it was tonight.”
It would seem that the Blazers should be able to do a better job of perimeter defense with Hassan Whiteside patrolling the middle. In his first game as a Blazer, Whiteside had 19 rebounds, two blocks and 16 points in 26:03. But Denver got too many open looks.
But before Trail Blazer fans start fretting over the 82-game season, there were still several positives to take away from the game:
- The play of Whiteside, who also made six of his seven shots.
- Kent Bazemore’s five steals, including three on consecutive Denver possessions in the second quarter.
- Skal Labissiere made three of his four shots and scored eight points to go with six rebounds.
- The Blazers outscored the Nuggets 23-7 on second-chance points.
- The law of averages. McCollum went 5-18. Bazemore was 1-7, Mario Hezonja was 0-3 and Anfernee Simons was 2-7. Those players will shoot better than that most of the time. And it wouldn’t have taken too much better to pull out a win.