Late heroics by an absolutely superhuman Damian Lillard were not enough, and now the Portland Trail Blazers face elimination.
Lillard scored a Trail Blazers playoff record 55 points, but it was not enough in a 147-140 double-overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets. Lillard also set an NBA playoff record with 12 made threes as he single-handedly erased a nine-point overtime deficit, but it was all for naught. The series returns to the Rose City with the Blazers trailing three games to two.
Here are the takeaways from Game Five:
- Covington Steps Up
Robert Covington has struggled in the series but made a determined quest to get Portland back into the game. A pair of late buckets with a key steal in between kept the Blazers in the game, a feat made doubly impressive by Covington having five fouls at the time. The Nuggets made a point of targeting the best defenders with foul trouble in front of a raucous crowd, and Jusuf Nurkic fell into that trap. Covington avoided the pitfall and was key in the Blazers forcing overtime. The toll of 44 minutes at mile-high altitude sapped his offense in the extra periods, but his effort allowed Portland to get there at all.
2. Lillard Time in the Mountain Time Zone
Damian Lillard continued to state his case as the most clutch shooter in the NBA today. Fifty-five points were not enough; he had to do it on a near-flawless 17-of-24 from the field and 12-of-17 from three. He added 10 assists, including on key threes by Covington and CJ McCollum that forced the overtime. Denver only sealed the game in the second overtime by ensuring that anyone on the Blazers would get the ball except Lillard. Sure enough, Norman Powell was a non-factor past the third quarter, and McCollum’s rough night from the field (7-of-22, 2-of-8 from three) only got worse. If Portland had won, Lillard’s overtime heroics of dragging the Blazers back into the game would become the stuff of Blazer legend. Instead, it is a cool footnote on a disappointing loss.
3. Energy Drain
If there was any game that called into question the depth of the Blazers, this was it. Despite playing two extra five-minute periods, Portland stuck with nine players, and the ninth only saw the court because Jusuf Nurkic fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Lillard, McCollum, and Powell all played 51 or more minutes. Playing that much at high elevation can be draining for even the best athletes, and now that effort was in a loss. The Blazers face elimination with a core of players dead tired from this game. Coach Terry Stotts does not trust many outside his key rotation during playoff time, but no minutes for Nassir Little, Harry Giles III, or Derrick Jones Jr. is puzzling at Denver’s sky-high arena.
4. The Nurk Trap
Jusuf Nurkic fouled out in the fourth, a trend that hurt the Blazers in the long run. Not every foul on Nurkic in this series has been accurate. However, sequences like the one that got him disqualified cannot keep happening. Nurkic will follow objectionable foul calls against him with obvious ones that justify the original close monitoring of his play. After a questionable charging call with four minutes left in the fourth, which gave him five fouls, Nurkic picked up his sixth foul on a clear hit on Aaron Gordon on the following possession. Denver is taking advantage of his aggressiveness, and Nurkic needs to play smarter.
Portland is still alive in this series and has home-court ready to force Game Seven. Now the Blazers need to dig down, find the energy, and come out hot to silence the Nuggets if they want their playoff dreams to stay alive.