It was apparent from the jump that the Trail Blazes were feeding off the increased number of 8,000 fans inside Moda Center for Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets.
The Blazers made their first four shots. The offense was clicking with plenty of player and ball movement, especially in the first half. But even as Portland shot over 80 percent midway through the first quarter, the Blazers struggled at the other end.
Denver took a 39-30 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The first few minutes and the final minutes of the second quarter saw better team defense from Portland as they clawed back in the game. The Nuggets held a 64-59 halftime lead.
But with Nikola Jokic picking apart the Blazers defense along with the Nuggets’ efficient three-point shooting and playmaking, Denver defeated Portland, 120-115.
The Nuggets now have a 2-1 series lead.
Blazers fans were on their feet in the final few minutes of the third quarter after watching Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard help cut the lead to three with 3:43 remaining in the quarter. Heading into the final period, Denver was up, 84-79.
But as Carmelo Anthony knocked down his third three of the game at the 6:55 mark of the fourth quarter, Moda Center erupted as the Blazers tied the game at 91.
Yet, the Blazers couldn't get enough stops down the stretch, even though they tightened up their defense in the final seconds, while Lillard and McCollum hit quick threes; however, it wasn't enough as time expired.
The Nuggets were without Will Barton (right hamstring; strain), PJ Dozier (right adductor; strain) and Jamal Murray (left ACL; surgery).
Damian Lillard used his quick first step to get around the lengthier defenders of Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon. Lillard notched 11 points in the first 12 minutes. Lillard and CJ McCollum proved once again that they can score on the best of them. At the break, the duo combined for 37 points.
However, the two struggled from three all night going a combined 8-of-26 from three.
Lillard notched 37 points on 15-of-31 shooting overall.
Jusuf Nurkic provided the spark the Blazers needed on the defensive end, especially to start the second quarter. His rim protection and extra effort plays made it even easier for the Blazers to put points on the board. Nurkic also found his cutting teammates at the other end. But after picking up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, Denver attacked Nurk every chance they could. The Blazers starting center fouled out with 5:17 remaining in the game.
Nurkic finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on the night.
In the second half, Carmelo Anthony provided a scoring punch to keep the Blazers in the game. Melo finished with 17 points in the loss.
The Nuggets took advantage of mismatches with the Blazers switching on screens. As a team Portland was also slow to rotate on that end and struggled to not allow Denver's wings to blow by them through the lane.
The Blazers allowed the Nuggets to shoot 60.0 percent in the first quarter and 53.3 for the half.
As the first quarter came to a close, Denver went on a 16-1 run against the Blazers backup frontcourt of Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony. It was another efficient scoring night for Nikola Jokic.
Whether he was scoring inside or out, Jokic got to his spots. The Nuggets big man finished with 36 points on 12-of-23 shooting.
Portland couldn’t get things going from behind the arc, while it was the opposite for Jokic and the Nuggets. Denver shot 52.6 percent from three for the game. Austin Rivers knocked down timely corner threes late to secure the Nuggets victory.
The dunk, the atmosphere:
The Blazers shot 5-of-17 from behind the arc to end the first half, while the Nuggets went 12-of-20 from deep.
Next up: Game 4 will tip-off Saturday in Portland at 1:00p.m. PT on NBCSNW.