DENVER – It was pretty fitting that the Trail Blazers and Nuggets had to decide their best-of-seven series in a Game 7.
The two teams have gone back and forth throughout their entire Western Conference semifinal series. Even looking back at the regular season, Denver won the season series against Portland, 3-1, but all four games were decided by single digits.
Even though this has been an even series for the most part, on Sunday night, the Nuggets started the game with a dominant performance.
With everything that was going wrong for the Blazers in the first half, missing open shots, especially from deep, picking up quick fouls, and letting the Nuggets see the ball go through the hoop early and often, the Blazers were fortunate to escape the first half only being down nine.
After making rotational adjustments, the Blazers found themselves in a dog fight until the final buzzer sounded. The Nuggets biggest lead of the game was 17, but Portland would not go away. The Blazers took the lead early in the final period and were able to hit clutch free throws and shots when they needed them. Portland charges back and finished the series with a 100-96 win over Denver.
Portland is not done yet.
Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 7 victory:
1. Nuggets on the attack early
From the jump, the Nuggets were locked in on the offensive end, attacking and finishing at the rim. With early dunks as well as three-pointers falling, the Nuggets were able to get their crowd going early. The first half was all Nuggets. While Denver was working on all cylinders the Blazers offense was a slow go.
The Blazers needed to make some in game adjustments after the first 24-minutes of play. (More on the adjustments later.)
CJ McCollum kept the Blazers in the game in the thirst half. He had it going from the mid-range as Trail Blazers fans have become accustomed to. McCollum led all scorers at halftime with 15 points. The third quarter Blazers fans were blessed with a rare McCollum dunk. It was apparent the Blazers starting shooting guard was not ready for his season to be over.
2. Fouls stack up
The whistles were blown early as the officials tried to keep the chippiness under control. When Denver got called for a foul the Nuggets fans were on their feet yelling at the refs. But in the first half Portland’s bench was getting hit with both offensive and defensive fouls. Blazers backup big man Zach Collins picked up three quick fouls in 12 minutes of action. That was a big blow for Portland who has relied on Collins defense and energy late in this series. Evan Turner and Seth Curry each had two fouls heading into halftime.
Collins getting in foul trouble made way for Meyers Leonard to see the floor in the first half. Leonard bodied up Nikola Jokic and defended the potential MVP candidate as best you asked for from your backup big man. Coach Stotts went back to Collins in the second half.
The good news for the Blazers was the Paul Millsap had picked up three quick fouls in the first half too. Millsap has given Portland trouble with his size on the Blazers smaller wings. Millsap played limited minutes which helped the Blazers chip away at the lead and take the lead early in the final period.
3. Second half adjustments
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts changed up his starting lineup to begin the second half. Coach Stotts started Rodney Hood and Zach Collins for Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to go with more offense and length.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, Hood, who has been the most consistent scorer off the bench for Portland, went down with an apparent leg injury. Hood made contact with Torrey Craig after Craig set a screen at midcourt. He did not return to the game.
After missing their first 10 three-pointers, Lillard came up with a clutch three at the 8:53 mark of the fourth. That three forced Denver to call a timeout. That three also quieted the crowd.
With Hood out due to injury, Evan Turner was called upon. ET stepped up on both ends of the floor. Turner completed a three-point play at the 7:24 mark and helped facilitate the offense while taking pressure off of Lillard. ET also iced the game with two clutch free throws with under 1 minute to play.
NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Warriors will tip-off Game 1 on Tuesday. You can our pregame coverage on NBC Sports Northwest 30 minutes before tip-off.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.