In front of 8,050 enthusiastic Moda Center witnesses Thursday night, the Trail Blazers proved once again that on some nights their offense can’t climb out of the hole their defense digs for them.
The Denver Nuggets hit 20 of their 38 three-point attempts while the Trail Blazers were knocking down just 14 of 45 – and at one point, 10 of the first 40.
Portland, meanwhile, outscored Denver 54-30 in the paint after two consecutive games when the Nuggets had a big margin inside.
The Blazers are picking their poison, but it doesn’t seem to matter – paint or three-point line, both have been lethal.
“Well, the first two games they scored in the paint, so we outscored them by a bunch in the paint,” Terry Stotts said. “So, they score inside in the first two games and score outside tonight.
“As long as they are contested perimeter shots, we’ve got to live with that. But the paint has been a priority and we did a good job of that. I think three-point shooting can come and go, but as long as we take away the paint, I think that's important.”
It would be better, probably, to take both away, but that’s not likely to happen.
The big problem Thursday was that Jusuf Nurkic got into foul trouble for the second straight game while trying to defend Nikola Jokic and fouled out with 5:17 to go and his team trailing by four points.
His backup, Enes Kanter, was ineffective in a five-minute stint at the end of the first quarter – a minus-15 over that span – and it left Stotts with the choice of breaking out of his eight-player rotation and using Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Kanter played only 5:50 in the game but there were 3.2 more seconds he should have played. Stotts should have inserted him at the end, when Portland was on the verge of a miracle comeback.
With Denver holding a three-point lead and 3.2 left, the Nuggets’ Monte Morris went to the foul for two shots.
He missed both of them and with no timeouts left, Portland was going to have very little chance to win. But there was a slim chance.
But without either Nurkic or Kanter on the floor, Nikola Jokic played volleyball with the rebound until he tipped it in at the final horn.
The Blazers had hit four three-pointers in the final 33.5 seconds to put themselves in that precarious position, overcoming four threes and 16 fourth-quarter points by Austin Rivers.
Speaking of tough spots, trailing 2-1 in the series, the Blazers are facing almost a must-win situation Saturday afternoon in Game 4. To capture the best-of-seven series they will now need another win in Denver.