Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. After a strong start, the Blazers faltered to Nikola Jokic and his band of unlikely heroes. The Nuggets sent the 8,000 fans, the most in the Moda Center since March of 2020, home disappointed.
This game put the Nuggets in the catbird seat, giving them a 2-1 advantage in the series and stealing back home court. To win the series, Portland will need to win another game in Denver. In a game that felt more deflating than it should have, let’s take a closer look.
Can’t Break the Bubble
Portland started the game up 16-7, but Denver quickly answered and finished the quarter with a 39-30 lead. After that, the Blazers never regained the lead. The game never got out of hand but stayed in the same bubble. The Blazers never trailed by more than 11, but could never break through to the lead.
With 6:56 left in the game, Carmelo Anthony went on a furious tear, scoring eight straight points and tying the game at 91. From there, the Blazers weren’t able to hit the go-ahead shot. Give credit to Denver’s defense, especially Aaron Gordon and Facu Campazzo. They made sure that the Nuggets bent, but never broke, leaving Portland playing catch-up all game.
Through the first two games in Denver, Portland was alive from the three-point line, shooting 48% from behind the arc. Everyone outside of Norman Powell was doing their part in shooting from three. However, the shooting in Game 3 brought the Blazers crashing down to Earth.
Portland shot 14-45 from three, a woeful 31%. Those missed shots hurt. In Game 2, the three-point line was the only thing keeping the Blazers in the game. In Game 3, it was the one thing stopping the team from taking the lead. Powell and Lillard missed two huge, open threes that would have given Portland the lead late.
The most frustrating aspect of the shooting was how it came alive at the end. Lillard, Anthony, and CJ McCollum finished 5-6 from three, making tough shots. If the team had hunted for shots with six minutes to go and not sixty seconds, it could have been a different game.
The Austin RIvers Game
Terry Stotts’ strategy has been clear from the beginning: let Jokic score, contain everyone else. Throughout the first two games, no one else had really stepped up for Denver. Enter Austin RIvers.
Rivers, who was just signed to the Nuggets roster on April 20th and has only played 18 total games with them, was excellent, scoring 21 points. With Jamal Murray and Will Barton both out, the Nuggets backcourt has been below average, as expected. Rivers made sure that at least one guard played like a playoff starter.
The Blazers seemed content to leave Rivers open from three, even when he got hot. This led to Rivers scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter on 5-6 shooting. While Rivers’ outburst was unexpected, Portland can’t let the other players wide open like that. The Blazers won Game 1 because they blocked all of Jokic’s passing lanes, not because they let the role players shoot open shots.
Next Up: Crunch Time. The Blazers play in an early must-win scenario, looking to tie the series against Denver on Saturday at 1.
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