Halfway through the second quarter, the Portland Trail Blazers were down 17 points to the Denver Nuggets. The Pepsi Center was rocking and the Nuggets were getting to the rim at will, getting every loose ball, Nikola Jokic was hitting guys in stride, Dame was zero for his first ten, and Evan Turner was being Evan Turner.
The Blazers could not have asked for a worse eighteen minutes to start Game 7. The injuries and the lack of depth started to catch up with them. It was over. This series was f***ing over. If the Blazers kept the margin of victory under thirty points then it would have been an amazing accomplishment.
That’s not what happened though. The Blazers, led by CJ McCollum, put together a nice little run and cut the lead down to nine points at the half. You could feel things start to tighten up in Denver. Then the Blazers outscored the Nuggets by eight points in the third quarter.
The third quarter has been notoriously awful to the Blazers in these playoffs. When the Blazers win the third quarter, they tend to win the game. And they did tonight. The Blazers beat the Nuggets 100-96 and advance to play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. This is the first time the Blazers have made the Western Conference Finals since 2000.
We can call this game the Christian James McCollum game. Dame was ice cold, scoring only 13 points tonight. Aminu and Harkless trended in the same direction they have been all series and that was not good. CJ stepped up big time tonight.
His big performance did not come from the behind the arc either. CJ straight up murdered the Nuggets in the midrange game tonight. And it was all set up by him being able to split double teams at the top of the arc and get to the rim at will. Once Jokic or Plumlee decided to not switch on the screen and allow CJ’s man to stay on him by dropping back, CJ pushed the ball up and would stop on a dime between teen and fifteen feet and hit jumper after jumper.
The Nuggets did not have an answer for this. It didn’t matter if was Craig, Murray, Harris, or Milsap who guarded CJ, he scored and he carried the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals.
The biggest turning point in the game as the chase down block that CJ had on Jamal Murray.
The momentum at this point late in the fourth quarter was being volleyed back and forth. Portland’s offense had stagnated the last few possessions and Denver could not capitalize. If Murray took a better line and dunked the ball rather than trying to get a foul of Seth Curry, I think we’re writing a season summary for the Blazers. But CJ paced Murray the entire trip down the court. He fell off, he stalked Murray, waiting to see what Murray did the with the ball. Murray went into the body of Seth, slowing him down, no foul called. Murray went up for what seemed like a sure make on a layup but the tireless CJ McCollum came out of nowhere to secure the block and switch momentum back on to Portland’s side.
A few minutes later, CJ broke Craig’s ankles and sealed the game for Portland.
Portland’s bench was huge tonight as well. Evan Turner was not the worst player on the court for the first time in a long, long time. He had many key defensive stops and had the clinching free throws and rebound. Zach Collins had seven points and another defensive masterpiece with four blocks.
The worry now heading into the Western Conference Finals is Rodney Hood who hyperextended his knee in the second half and did not return. Hood had been playing the best defense of his career in this game and might have earned himself a starting spot in the WCF had he not gotten hurt. We’ll keep you up to date on what happens with his status.
The Blazers head to Oakland on Tuesday night to take on the Golden State Warriors. Tip is at 6:00 PM on TNT. We’ll have full coverage.