Trailing 3-2 in their first-round series with the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers knew Game 6 was a must-win.
And the first 24 minutes of action represented a team who desired to extend the series.
Portland built up a 14-point lead at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter, but the Nuggets fought back to outscore the Blazers by 7 as the quarter closed. Trailing by one possession, Denver took control of the game in the closing 12 minutes as Portland scored just 14 points in the final quarter.
But the clock didn’t strike Dame Time per usual; it was simply an epic collapse.
After watching the Trail Blazers star explode for 55 points in Game 5, Denver expected Lillard to be unleashed in Game 6 to keep Portland’s playoff hopes alive. He led the team with 19 points at halftime.
Lillard, however, didn’t look like his usual self in the closing minutes. As Nuggets coach Michael Malone noted there was a play in the fourth quarter where the Trail Blazers guard hit his head on the court. He believes it ultimately skewed his performance.
“I haven’t seen this play actually, but a couple of my coaches said there was a play in the fourth quarter where Dame fell hard, and I believe he might have hit his head,” he said. “Knowing Damian Lillard, knowing where he’s from, watching him work out before him coming to the NBA, he’s probably not going to use any excuses. That’s not in his nature."
Lillard went on to score just 9 points in the second half. He finished with 28 points on 8-20 FG, 3-11 3-PT and 9-9 from the free-throw line, leading all Portland players in scoring.
“Damian Lillard was amazing all series,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “To close him out, on his home floor, that just showed our maturity because that dude is one of the best there is, so I’m really proud of our team.”
The Nuggets went on a 14-4 run in the third quarter, followed by a 8-2 burst in the fourth quarter to snag the league. In a hostile environment, Denver broke open the game in the final minutes and their reason for doing so was simple.
“Nobody’s trying to see Damian Lillard, one of the clutchest players ever in Game 7,” Porter Jr. said. “We knew that we needed to come out here and be the aggressors. We didn’t want to go to a Game 7. We wanted to finish it tonight.”
Finish it they did. The Blazers are now eliminated from playoff contention and turn back the page to next season. But first, there will be major changes.
“I mean, we didn’t win a championship so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” Lillard said. “I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously it wasn’t good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard.”