It’s been two decades since we have seen Portland in the Western Conference finals, but they’re looking to change things up. In the second round for the third time under Terry Stotts, they are hoping that this could be their year to make a deep run.
Portland had the likes of Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen on that last team, and while this one is not quite like that, this is an impressive bunch. As a matter of fact, Portland only got 12 minutes of action from starting forward Moe Harkless in Game 2, who left early with an injury. But that would not stop them. With Enes Kanter also playing with a completely wrecked shoulder, he was still able to be productive for a second straight game. When he finally got on the court in NY and slapped the hardwood, it was no joke. He loves this game and is showing his dedication now.
Denver also lost Torrey Craig to a broken nose (deemed to be out for the game, he would actually return), but his time off the floor really hurt them defensively. It was Rodney Hood stepping up in a reserve role for a second consecutive game, this time hitting the game-sealing three with just over two minutes left and hitting a pair of free throws as the clock was waning. He had 15 points in 27 minutes off the pine, and his +4 net rating is exactly what they need.
It’s crazy to think that Portland allowed the Nuggets to grab 14 (!!!) offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone (23 for the game) but still made more shots than they did. Nikola Jokic had a stellar game with 16-14-7, but the point total on 7/17 shooting (no threes) was big for Portland as Nikola was scoring from all over the floor during the first game of the series. Jamal Murray playing on one leg for most of the crunch-time minutes hurt them defensively, but he kept them in the game for a little longer than we expected him to, that is for sure.
On a night when Damian Lillard shot just 5-17 from the floor (1-7 from three), all of the role players stepped up for the Blazers, doing so on both ends of the floor. We mentioned Kanter’s strong effort, finishing with 15 points and nine boards, plus a pair of steals and blocks. CJ McCollum finished with 20-6-6 and was chosen as the walk-off interview after the game. Al-Farouq Aminu was playing his usual stout defense, and also had a double-double with 11 and 10 in his 31 minutes of play.
Meanwhile, Denver has only themselves to blame for this loss. They should have been able to take advantage of Dame’s off night, and all of their offensive rebounds. But they shot just 6-29 from three and 16-26 from the line. Malik Beasley has been scoring effectively all season but missed five foul shots, including two in a row down the stretch. They could not find a player to ride. They had guys going 4-11, 6-18, 7-17, 6-14 … there was nobody who they could trust, which is what derailed them the most. This is a great system, though it clearly works best when one player is hot.
As we look to Game 3 in Portland, one thing is clear. Whichever team comes out of the pack and wins the series will pose a challenge to the winner of Houston-Golden State. Things are just starting to get interesting out West, with Game 3 on Friday being all the rage.