The chatter after Denver blew out Portland in Game 5 was that the Trail Blazers might need 50 from Damian Lillard to survive Game 6.
They didn’t. Thirty-two was enough.
Lillard found his stroke from distance and got plenty of help from CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood as the Trail Blazers forced a Game 7 with a 119-108 win over the Nuggets Thursday.
Things didn’t look good for the Blazers early on. The Nuggets were hot early and raced out to a 34-26 first quarter lead that looked a lot like the opening stanza of Denver’s 124-98 win on Tuesday.
Rodney Hood leads the charge
But Rodney Hood exploded off the bench in the second quarter to complete a 14-point first-half effort. Lillard picked up where Hood left off with a 17-point third quarter.
By the end of the third, Portland had turned that eight-point deficit into an 87-80 lead that it would not relinquish.
The Nuggets had held Lillard in check for much of the series. But he was in his comfort zone Thursday, hitting 6-of-13 3-pointers, including a pair that came from deep behind the arc.
His 27-footer with Nuggets defensive ace Torrey Craig draped on him early in the third signaled he was heating up. His 30-foot pull-up bomb late in the quarter confirmed that yes, indeed — he was hot.
“I just stayed with it,” Lillard told ESPN of fighting through shooting struggles. “Sometimes as a shooter you go through stretches where the shot’s just not falling. I try not to be one of those guys that starts searching, start making it more difficult than it is.”
But it wasn’t all Lillard on Thursday. Hood kept charging after his big first half. He finished with 25 points while hitting 8-of-12 from the field and 3-for-4 from distance, with several big shots coming as Portland pulled away late.
McCollum big, too
McCollum almost matched Lillard, scoring 30 to go with six rebounds and three assists.
As a team, Portland shot 46.1 percent from the field and a scorching 45.5 percent (15-of-33) from 3-point distance, putting Denver’s top-ranked 3-point defense through the wringer.
Nuggets go cold
The Nuggets, meanwhile, struggled from the field, cooling down after the red-hot first quarter that saw them shoot 61.1 percent from the field. For the game, they hit 38.4 percent of their field goals as every player not named Nikola Jokic had trouble finding his shot.
Jokic was his normal outstanding self, finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while hitting 10-of-15 field goals. Jamal Murray scored 24, but was far from the efficient scorer he’s been most of the series, connecting on 7-of-20 from the field.
Malik Beasley missed all eight of his shots off the bench. The comfort zone Denver found at home in Game 5 appeared to be disrupted by the confines of the Moda Center.
Tempers flared late between the two teams who were facing off for a sixth straight game. Denver’s Will Barton and Portland’s Seth Curry squared off before being separated after a physical play left Blazers forward Zach Collins on his back halfway through the fourth quarter.
Officials issues a double-technical on the pair as well as a double-technical on Collins and Craig. No punches were thrown, but players from both sides appeared genuinely ready to let them fly.
They’ll have a chance to go at it one more time on Sunday in Denver. This time a trip to the Western Conference finals will be on the line.
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