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Nuggets survive Damian Lillard onslaught, fend off 22-point Blazers rally in 2OT classic

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Dame Time wasn't the right time on Tuesday.

The Denver Nuggets took a wild ride in Game 5 against the Portland Trail Blazers and emerged with a 147-140 win in a double-overtime thriller to take a 3-2 series lead.

They had to fend off a barrage of big shots from Damian Lillard en route to win. But they survived a 55-point onslaught from the Portland sharpshooter to put the Blazers on the brink of elimination.

Denver cruised early ... then chaos

Denver looked well on its way to an easy home win early, opening up a 10-0 lead it extended to 54-32 midway through the second quarter. But few leads are safe with Lillard in the opposing lineup, something the Nuggets were reminded of repeatedly on Tuesday. The Blazers closed the quarter with a 30-11 run to cut their deficit to 65-62 at halftime and ensure that the Nuggets were in for a battle.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) goes up for a shot against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) goes up for a shot against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Controversy sets up first OT

Portland eventually took an 83-82 third-quarter lead, and the rivals traded blows from there in a game that wasn't decided until the final buzzer. Lillard struck the final blow in regulation as a controversial late call set him up to force overtime.

Officials whistled Austin Rivers for a foul on a missed Lillard 3-point attempt with 9.8 seconds remaining, appearing to send Lillard to the line for potentially game-tying free throws. But the Nuggets challenged the call. Officials determined that Rivers fouled Lillard before the gather — no free throws, but Portland retained possession.

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From there, Lillard did what Lillard does best. With his second chance, he pulled up again from deep, this time with Michael Porter Jr. guarding him to no avail. Lillard's 3-pointer connected with three seconds remaining to tie the game at 121, sending it to overtime.

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Dame rallies Blazers again

The Nuggets again appeared in control in the extra session, holding a 134-126 lead in the game's final minute. But Dame Time struck again. Lillard closed the final minute of overtime with 3-pointers on three straight possessions, including this one with 6.4 seconds remaining to force another extra session.

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There was no more Blazers magic in the second extra overtime as a pair of Monte Morris free throws with eight seconds remaining extended Denver's lead to five, ensuring that Lillard wouldn't have another chance to force an extra period. 

In the end, his 55 points, 10 assists and 12-of-17 effort from 3-point distance weren't enough.

Nuggets survive with team effort against 1-man Lillard show

While Lillard put on a one-man show and the best performance of the postseason, the Nuggets countered with a balanced effort that included big games from their MVP favorite, emerging star and a role player off the bench. 

Nikola Jokic led the way for Denver with 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He opened the second overtime Denver's first five points on a 3-pointer and a layup to ensure the Nuggets could keep pace with Lillard. He repeatedly made plays in the paint against Portland post defenders helpless to stop him. 

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Porter Jr. continued his emergence as one of the NBA's brightest young stars, tallying 26 points and 12 rebounds while connecting on 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. A Denver team that once looked doomed in the loaded West with Jamal Murray's season-ending ACL injury now reliably looks to Porter Jr. as its No. 2 in big moments. 

Meanwhile, fourth-year Nuggets veteran Morris exploded off the bench with 28 points and five assists, doing much of his damage at the free-throw line where he made 10 of 11 attempts, including his final two that extended Denver's lead to two possessions. He connected on those critical shots after his only miss at the line allowed Lillard to hit his final 3-pointer of the first overtime that forced the final extra session. 

While Denver shard the load, Lillard saw little help from his Portland teammates down the stretch. He scored 17 of Portland's 19 points in the overtime sessions as his teammates combined to shoot 1 of 13 from the field after the end of regulation.

In the end, a little more help from his teammates could have ensured his all-time great effort didn't arrive in a loss.

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