As the Trail Blazers-Nuggets First Round series shifted to Portland, the Blazers didn’t look like themselves from three.
Portland finished the game 14-of-45 from deep after uncharacteristic three-point shooting nights from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, caught fire from behind the arc, especially to close out the game thanks to Austin River’s clutch threes.
But what was also noticeably different in the last five minutes of the contest was:
The Blazers were without their starting center.
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Jusuf Nurkic was charged with his sixth and final foul with 5:17 remaining in the game.
While the Nuggets took a 2-1 series lead following Thursday night’s 120-115 victory over the Blazers, it was the second straight game that Nurkic has fouled out.
“I just think we need to play better basketball as a group and I feel like when we share the ball we are a pretty darn good team.”
Nurkic provided the spark the Blazers needed on the defensive end, especially to start the second quarter.
But after picking up his fifth foul early in the fourth, the Nuggets knew they had to take it right at the big fella.
Nurkic was certainly frustrated about a couple of the calls.
“We can’t just assume that we will win because we’re home,” Nurkic said.
One specific foul he didn't agree with was his fifth foul where he barely got tangled up with Nikola Jokic.
“Nikola is a great player, but he just grab my arm and kind of hold my hand and they give me a foul," Nurkic explained. "I think that’s unacceptable in the playoffs.”
The eight-year veteran finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists.
Nurkic even suggested that the NBA go the route of having four officials on the court.
But what it comes down to is keeping Nurkic on the floor.
And both Damian Lillard and the Nuggets know just that.
“Their best player is their 5, that is an important match up in this series,” Lillard said. “We need [Nurk] on the floor for his versatility defensively – to have that big body that can move around with Jokic and be on the block with Jokic. It is an issue for us that Nurk can solve. Obviously, Jokic is going to do what he does, but Nurkic is our best matchup for him. So we need him to be on the floor. We need him to be playing confident and in a good space.”
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone agreed.
“Nurk’s a load. He’s a good basketball player. He facilitates for them on offense. Dame, CJ and him have a great synergy on the court.
“Defensively, he’s a presence. So getting him into foul trouble has definitely been to our advantage.”
Nurkic and the Blazers will have a quick turnaround to figure out adjustments for Game 4 with Saturday's contest tipping off at 1p.m. PT.