Trail Blazers aim to hold court against Nuggets in Game 4


A week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers had stolen home-court advantage and seemed poised to make quick work of the Denver Nuggets in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

Two games later, the Trail Blazers face a must-win Game 4 to stave off a possible elimination contest on the road in Game 5. The best-of-seven series continues Saturday afternoon in Portland with the Nuggets leading 2-1.

Denver, despite its injuries, took back home court with a win in Game 3 Thursday night in Portland. The Trail Blazers went cold from deep in their 120-115 loss, shooting 14-for-45, and the Nuggets took advantage. Portland needs to make adjustments to avoid dropping both games at home.

“I don’t know what’s going to change, but something’s got to change,” Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic said. “We can’t keep saying ‘Next one.’ And obviously, they made shots, but they made shots all game. And if something isn’t working out, we can’t keep jacking up threes. I believe in this team, but it don’t mean anything if we don’t execute. It’s a long series, but we can’t just assume we are going to win because we are at home.”

Damian Lillard has done his best to will Portland to victory. He is averaging 37.7 points and 9.3 assists through the first three games but struggled from behind the arc on Thursday, going 5-for-16.

The difference Thursday was Denver’s efficiency from long range. The Nuggets shot 20-for-38 from behind the arc and got an unexpected lift from Austin Rivers. He had 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and made four key 3-pointers after the Trail Blazers tied the game at 91.

Rivers was out of job six weeks ago, and after Jamal Murray tore his ACL, Denver signed him to a 10-day contract and later for the rest of the season. He has paid dividends for a team that had championship hopes before Murray went down.

“The guy was sitting at home for 2 1/2 months waiting for the phone to ring, and it wasn’t ringing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s crazy to even think about. Austin Rivers is a good player. He’s played in 45 playoff games prior to this 2021 playoffs. It just worked out that he’s here.”

Denver has gotten the usual stellar performance from MVP favorite Nikola Jokic, but it has been the role players such as Rivers and Facu Campazzo who have given the Nuggets an edge in the series. Campazzo nearly had a triple-double in Game 3 (11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and took a borderline charge on Nurkic, who fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Campazzo is a 30-year-old NBA rookie who has been thrust into a starting role with injuries to Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier, and he has responded.

“We’re a resilient group, we’re a tough group, and we’re like the Statue of Liberty, man,” Malone said. “We take everybody.”

–Field Level Media

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