DENVER — Hey look, this friendly, nicey-nice Nuggets-Blazers series finally found its villain!
Kanter. Enes, Kanter. From Turkey with trouble.
“We want to win, they want to win,” Nuggets star Nikola Jokic said of the minor scuffle that broke out in the final minutes of Portland’s 97-90 win against Denver.
Before we go any further with the villain stuff, let’s be real about what transpired late Wednesday night at Pepsi Center. Jokic shoved Kanter into the masked man, Torrey Craig. Craig fell down.
No big deal. Puppies have more malicious intent.
But whatever gets the Nuggets going, right? If it’s a villain that lights their candle, cast Kanter as the bad guy in the next Die Hard. Because it took the home team far too long to get going in Game 2 of this Western Conference semifinal playoff series. It stunk up the joint, in fact.
When the conversion crew works its magic turning The Can from a basketball court into a hockey rink for Thursday’s Avalanche game, let’s hope it brings Febreze. This was gross: 4-20 from the 3 in the first half, the first 4-20 that Colorado has politely declined. The Nuggets missed wide-open shots, contested shots, Jello shots, free shots (11 free throws, for goodness sakes). Ewww.
“Just couldn’t make a damn shot,” Michael Malone said of a Nuggets team that bricked 23 of 29 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Here’s what you will read elsewhere: the Blazers made this a series by tying it up at 1-1. Portland skipped town with homecourt advantage in its back pocket, in time for Game 3 Friday at Moda Center.
“They say the series starts when someone wins a game on the road,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said after he was limited to 14 points.
Not buying it. This is the Nuggets’ series to lose. If they hit shots, they advance to the Western Conference finals. Sometimes hoops analysis is simple, and this is one of those times.
The Blazers deserved Game 2, mostly because the Nuggets gave it to them. Denver couldn’t make a pancake if it was handed a recipe. On a single possession the Nuggets clanged six shots. Tip, miss. Tip, miss. Tip, miss. Tip, miss. Tip, miss. Tip, miss. Their 35 points was a first-half low for the playoffs. It was U-G-L-Y, ugly.
“Just didn’t knock 'em down,” Gary Harris said.
Thirty-two percent. That’s what the Nuggets have shot in four postseason defeats. They don’t need a new game plan or a villain to motivate them. They need a shot doctor. That’s all, folks.
“They didn’t even play that good, to be honest,” Jokic said, finally hitting the mark. “They can play better than that. It was kind of a weird game where they were more aggressive than we were.”
This is a repeat of the Spurs series, without Pop’s scowl. And you know what happened there. When Jokic draws double teams and whips the ball around the court like a giant Pez dispenser — and his guys are making the open shots they’re paid to make — the Nuggets are tough to beat.
When they’re not, they’re not.
In the second quarter, a pool of blood leaked across the court like a cracked windshield, fresh from Craig’s nasal cavity. Looked like it hurt. Craig left the court to crazy applause. He returned later to crazy applause.
"Torrey Craig’s got some balls,” Malone said.
But Denver’s dreadful shooting doesn’t change the fact the 2-seed Nuggets are a bit better than the 3-seed Blazers. That was true in the regular season and still is. Portland did almost everything right in Game 2, Denver did almost nothing right. It was still a game with 3 minutes left.
After playing the most minutes in the playoffs, Jokic found a way to score some rest. He committed four fouls in under three quarters and crossed his legs in a comfy pose on the bench. After the game, he sounded about as worried as a man with $147 million in his pocket should sound: not worried.
“It was a weird game for us,” Jokic said.
The Nuggets have done this before. Couple weeks ago, in fact, when San Antonio rolled into Pepsi Center and took Game 1, supposedly taking control of the series. This series is like that one.
It’s now a game of H-O-R-S-E. The Blazers have H, the Nuggets have H. Hit shots, Denver wins.
No villains necessary.