PORTLAND, Ore. - Dame Time came around 9:15 Pacific Standard Time, and Portland’s offense looked at home whenever and wherever Rodney Hood found the ball in the Trail Blazers’ 119-108 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday at Moda Center to force a Game 7.
The clock struck Dame Time in the middle of the third quarter just after Nuggets star Nikola Jokic splashed a 3-pointer for the seventh lead change of the game with 4:33 left in the third. Damian Lillard, Portland’s star, clocked in and nailed a 31-foot triple 15 seconds later for the final lead change, and fans across the arena tapped their watches, replicating Lillard’s favorite big-shot celebration.
“For me, I’m looking for those moments,” Lillard said after scoring a game-high 32 points.
“Because I know how it feels being on the other side when the crowd is going crazy and you’ve got to call a timeout.”
The Portland crowd had reason to cheer for most of the night, though the Nuggets led by as much as 10 in the first period behind 10 points from Jamal Murray.
“We got off to a really good start. I liked our first quarter. I like our defense. I liked our energy,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That second quarter, I thought, was the deciding quarter.”
After getting going late in the first quarter, helping cut the Nuggets’ advantage to eight to start the second, Hood, who heard the raspy voice of rapper DMX ask “Where the hood, where the hood, where the hood at?” after each of his eight field goals, continued to heat up in the second.
With the Nuggets using some of their size on the perimeter - Torrey Craig and Gary Harris - on Portland’s troublesome backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum, Hood went to work against smaller defenders.
“Right now, I like all of them, to be honest,” Hood said of his matchups. “A lot of times Murray is guarding me. Not to take away from him as a defender, but he’s smaller and I feel like I can get a shot off any time. Then once I get it going, I just feel like I got it rolling.”
Hood scored seven more in the second, and Portland used a 32-20 advantage to take a 58-54 lead back to the locker room
“We kind of got behind the eight ball a little bit early in the first quarter, we fouled a little bit too much, but I think not so much how we came out, but how we responded to being down 10 in the first quarter,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t have a lot of momentum, but the way we came back in the first half was important and then the way we sustained it.”
The lead flipped back and forth a couple times in the third before each team’s star - Jokic and Lillard traded 3s, Lillard’s putting the hosts ahead for good right around 9:15 on the West Coast and setting up a Game 7.
Suddenly, the Nuggets have an edge in experience. Lillard and some of the Portland mainstays have never played in a decisive playoff game. Murray and the Nuggets are in the second round after beating San Antonio in Game 7 of the first round.
“It’s weird,” Murray said. “Everyone keeps talking about experience, and I just want to say that we’ve been here before. We’ll go back home, regroup like we did for San Antonio, come back with energy and just be ready to play.”
After going to halftime with 11 points, Lillard put up 17 in the third and momentum remained with the hosts for the remainder.
“I think over the course of the series, or at least after Game 1, (I) just haven’t seen the ball go in consistently enough,” Lillard said. “My job is to stay aggressive, keep doing what I do, and tonight, shots fell.”
Lillard also got considerable help from McCollum, who scored 30 points, Hood, who outscored Denver’s bench 25-13 on his own and Zach Collins, who added 14 more bench points for the hosts.
“You gotta play better defense. To me, it’s pretty black and white,” Malone said. “Give them credit, they played really well tonight. I thought Rodney Hood was the MVP of the game. He had a huge impact on the game throughout it.”
Jokic led the Nuggets with 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, while Murray added 24. The three other starters all hit double figures: Paul Millsap (17), Harris (15) and Craig (10), but Will Barton's seven points, all during the second quarter, led the Nuggets bench.
The time for Sunday’s series finale in Denver depends on if Houston can extend its series against Golden State on Friday. It’s also uncertain if each team will be at full strength. With the game largely decided the Nuggets’ Will Barton and Torrey Craig and Trail Blazers Seth Curry and Zach Collins were assessed technical fouls following a skirmish.
What is known is the game certainly won’t be in Portland, where Hood has become comfortable after falling out of the Cleveland Cavaliers rotation at times during last postseason, and whatever time tipoff is, the Nuggets hope it’s not Dame Time once again.
“I think the most important thing is, who brings the energy on the floor,” Jokic said. “And who brings the physicality.”