The Portland Trail Blazers are headed to Game 7. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum finally found their shot, with the two star guards combined for 64 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and a whopping 23 of Portland’s 41 made field goals in Game 6 on Thursday night.
And while Lillard and McCollum’s shooting was one story from that colossal win, it wasn't the story.
No, for me it was that Portland was only outrebounded by the Denver Nuggets by one board.
That stood in stark contrast to the rebounding disparity from Game 5, which was a whopping +19 in favor of Denver on the glass. Portland has been blasted in rebounding for the entirety of this series, with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets guards continually grabbing offensive rebounds, sometimes several in a row.
Blazers fans found themselves screaming at their television sets during games four and five, wishing and hoping that anybody Wearing black and red would grab a board.
Watching back film of those matchups, it was apparent that Portland didn't have a plan to crash the glass on either side of the ball, with its wings often timid, stuck in inopportune parts of the floor. That allowed Torrey Craig, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and even Jamal Murray to get rebounds the Blazers should have fought for.
Terry Stotts mentioned before Game 6 that he was wary of letting Denver get going in transition, and perhaps that's why Portland wing players were not cutting to the middle of the lane over the last couple of contests. But that seemed to change on Thursday, and a more effective strategy for the Blazers was implemented.
Portland's bench, which has been middling this entire series, came back to life. Led in large part by Zach Collins and Rodney Hood, the Blazers saw their second best asset outside of Damian Lillard become a factor once again. While Hood scored an electrifying 25 points, we saw Collins and Evan Turner put in some serious dirty work on the boards.
Collins has seen his minutes increase, slowly seeing his minutes creep up from a 19 in Game 1 to 29 in Game 6. Although he had just four rebounds himself, Collins added five blocks and did what good bigs do best.
Turner, who has been inert as an offensive player of the series, grabbed seven rebounds and used his big body to push around several of Denver’s players — guards and forwards alike.
The culmination was a smaller disparity in overall rebounding. Denver also saw their second chance points go from 22 in Game 5 to 17 in Game 6. The Nuggets’ fast break points dropped by five from game-to-game, assuaging Stotts’ fear that they might give up transition points if they crashed the glass too hard.
There seemed to be a lack of effort by the Blazers wings in Game 6. We knew what Portland's issues were after Game 4, and their flat effort in Game 5 was a disappointing show of both Portland's energy and the coaching staff's recognition of what needed to be done. Thursday changed that for the Blazers, and the intensity was back to where it was during the first part of this playoff matchup.
Collins was not the only guy out there banging bodies. Hood wasn't the only guy on fire. Lillard wasn’t the only one shooting. What the Blazers needed someone to step up for them, and the bench did that in a big way to push Portland into the next game.
Sunday's Game 7 back in Colorado will again being an elimination game for Portland. The hope is that they will be able to bring the same amount of energy that they did at Moda on Thursday. If Collins, Hood, and even Turner can bring the type of intensity they did in Game 6, that will be an added boost that Denver will have a hard time countering.
Boxing out may seem boring, but it's not something you can watch on film and plan against as a coach. The fundamentals are the fundamentals for a reason, and if Portland’s bench sticks to what they do best, that should allow McCollum, Lillard, and Kanter to do what they do best.