Denver Nuggets, NBA Playoffs, Portland Trail Blazers

It’s McCollum Time as the Trail Blazers steal Game 7 from the Nuggets

CJ McCollum was the hero of the second round for the Portland Trail Blazers, helping them steal Game 7 on the road from the Denver Nuggets.

The Blazers dug themselves an enormous hole in the first quarter, scoring just 17 points and trailing by 12 at the end of the first 12 minutes of play. They won every quarter after that, chipping away at Denver’s lead and eventually taking control themselves toward the middle of the third quarter.

The huge and decisive second-half effort was led by CJ McCollum’s 22 points (he finished with 37). Evan Turner played excellently as well and Portland was able to win the battle of star power and the battle of depth. Denver gets a wealth of useful playoff experience and plenty to think about as they plan for next season. Portland gets a Western Conference Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

Takeaways

Jamal Murray was all over the place. In the biggest game of the season, Murray shot 4-of-18 from the field and 0-of-4 on 3-pointers. He was able to get himself to the line for nine free throw attempts and finished with 17 points and 5 assists but he wasn’t nearly enough on offense for Denver to seal the deal. Correlation is not causation but in the Nuggets seven playoff wins, he averaged 24.1 points per game, shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 43.2 percent on 3-pointers. In their seven losses, he averaged 18.4 points per game, shooting 35.6 percent from the field and 26.1 percent on 3-pointers. As the Nuggets look ahead to future playoff series, they don’t necessarily need Murray to always play to that ceiling. But they’re going to have a hard time getting over the hump if his floor keeps falling that low, and that often.

Damian Lillard made plays. His game was overshadowed by an ugly 3-of-17 shooting line and McCollum’s heroics. But he got himself to the free throw line six times. He came up with 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals, including 6-6-1 in the second half. The Blazers outscored Denver by eight points in the 45 minutes he was on the floor and he has more than demonstrated in this series that he can help his team win even when his shot isn’t falling.

Next: Kevin Durant’s absence may be an opportunity for the Warriors

Denver’s depth didn’t show up. The Nuggets bench helped carry them through early season injuries with Gary Harris and Will Barton missing significant time. Monte Morris emerged as perhaps the best backup point guard in the league. Malik Beasley made a statement with his defense and shooting. Juan Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee made key contributions. But in this series, the Nuggets just couldn’t win those minutes. They were +11.0 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor and -28.8 per 100 when he was on the bench. The bench has skill, athleticism and versatility. They’ll be back next year.

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