DENVER – It was bowling-shoe ugly. It was battered-1946-DeSoto-on-blocks-in-the-front-yard ugly, No disguising it. No avoiding that or trying to make it sound better than it was.
The Trail Blazers lost 124-98 to the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night and the game wasn’t as close as it sounds.
Portland was outshot, from three-point range and everywhere else, outrebounded, outshot at the foul line and generally just out-everythinged.
The Trail Blazers’ starting backcourt went 14-37 from the field and 4-14 from behind the arc. The starting forwards were 3-11 and 1-4. The starting center was 2-9 and missed three free throws. Oh, free throws? The starters were 6-12.
OK, that’s probably about all you want to hear about it.
The Trail Blazers thus fell behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with a must-win rematch Thursday night in Portland.
But it would not be wise to go overboard on the depth of this loss. Stuff happens. Let Damian Lillard explain it:
“Whether you lose by one or by 25, it’s just one loss,” he said.
And sometimes a good slap in the face from a horrific loss is better than the heartbreak of a one-pointer. Portland now needs to win Thursday to send the game back to Denver for a deciding seventh game Sunday.
“I think our mindset should be, just take care of home,” Lillard said. “We know that we are more than capable of getting it done. We’ve played our best basketball with our backs against the wall.”
The Nuggets were in this same situation in their first-round series against San Antonio, holding a 3-2 lead going back to Texas but lost Game 6 and had to return to Denver to wrap up the series – which they won more because of San Antonio’s off-night than their own barely average game.
“We know going into Portland for Game 6, it’s going to be a really tough game,” Denver Coach Mike Malone said,. “Game Six in San Antonio, we did not come ready to play, mentally or physically. I hope that we have a much different mindset going into Portland for Game Six.”
The Trail Blazers opened the game with a new wrinkle they’d toyed with earlier in the series – using Al-Farouq Aminu to defend Nikola Jokic, which left Enes Kanter to guard Paul Millsap.
Jokic finished with 25 points and 19 rebounds while Millsap was his usual Blazer-killer self with 24 points and eight boards.
“Gives us something different,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said afterwards. “Jokic spends a lot of time out on the floor and Chief is pretty active in their ball screens and gives us some athleticism out there. They didn’t look to post him much… When you get beat like this, there’s a lot of things that didn’t go well. I think it’s hard, right now, to evaluate whether that’s something we’ll do going forward or not.”
Stotts was terse when asked about his defense.
“We didn’t have a very good defensive game,” he said.
Kanter said, “They just played harder than us. We’ve just got to learn from this and just go home and take care of home, because right now, that’s the most important game of the season, of the year.”
Maurice Harkless put it in perspective.
“We knew we didn’t play the way we do and we know they played very well tonight,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in here feels like we can’t beat them. We know we can compete with this team, we can beat this team.
“It happened. It’s over with. We can’t really focus on that anymore. That’s the beauty of this game and the beauty of the playoffs, as well. Next game, it doesn’t matter.
“We have to make it happen.”
No question about it.
Now it’s simply win or pack up the gear and go home.