Lillard's 40 not enough in Blazers' last-second loss to Nuggets
The Portland Trail Blazers (13-12) fell 121-120 to the visiting Denver Nuggets Thursday, Dec. 8, after Jamal Murray hit a game-winning 3-pointer with .9 seconds to go. Damian Lillard went off in the second half to score 40 points, including a late 3-pointer that put the Blazers up 120-118 with less than nine seconds to go.
"I am frustrated … we didn't execute the way we needed to in the last few minutes, but more in particular the (final) eight seconds," Billups said. "It wasn't handled well at all. We're up two. Last shot you can give up is a three. Two don't beat us, you go into overtime, no big deal. You give up a 3-point shot, that's terrible."
Jerami Grant came out in his All-Star form with 12 quick points and caused some havoc on defense with a block and steal on the two-time defending MVP in Nikola Jokic.
Those plays helped lead to nine first-half turnovers by Denver compared to Portland's three. Grant got into foul trouble, however, and had to slow down a bit on both ends.
Jusuf Nurkic did his best to slow down Jokic, who went into the half with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Nurkic had 12 points and two boards.
Portland got some solid bench minutes and hit seven 3-pointers to go into the break up 64-63. Damian Lillard, in his second game back from the calf injury that made him miss two weeks, had eight points and nine assists at the break as he was looking early and often for guys cutting to the basket in the first half that saw plenty of energy.
Lillard dished out a couple more assists to open the third, then decided to forward the clock to Dame Time by hitting five 3-pointers and putting up 18 points in the frame.
Nurkic went to work as well with nine points and four boards in the third alone, as well as some strong defense at the rim to help Portland open up a 10-point advantage, 99-89 going into the fourth.
The Nuggets wouldn't go quietly however, opening the fourth quarter on a 16-5 run with mainly the bench unit out there against Portland's. A couple big 3-pointers by Bones Hyland and Jamal Murray got Denver right back up close and a jumper from Jokic put Denver up 105-104 with 6:33 left in the frame.
From there, the shots went back and forth until the final few, when Murray was able to hit his final shot with the least amount of time. Lillard continued to fight throughout the second half and looked very much like his normal form.
It's brutal loss for Portland after hitting plenty of shots to win a ball game, but Denver has expectations for a reason as Jokic finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Portland will be back home at 7 p.m. Saturday against Minnesota.
An OK turnover night: Portland had only three giveaways at halftime while forcing nine from Denver, five of which came off of Jokic. The Blazers were able to put together a decent 48 minutes of taking care of the rock, finishing with nine in the second half to put up 12 for the game. Portland has won with plenty more this season, so 12 is still an improvement.
Lillard knows: Lillard came into the night with 4,809 assists in his career and he looked every bit the floor general he is. He had nine assists at halftime and finished the game with 12, putting him 179 away from 5,000 and 112 away from tying Clyde Drexler for the most in franchise history. Terry Porter has the most with 5,319.
Volume night: Lillard wasn't alone in feeling it at some point from deep. The Blazers knocked down 16 3-pointers, nine from Lillard, and ended up shooting 40% from deep. Those shots helped keep the Blazers in it at times, whether it was Grant in the first quarter or Lillard in the third. Even Eubanks got in the fun with a fourth quarter 3-pointer.
Game grade: B
"The experienced, really good teams, even when they're not playing great, they have like a medium where they're still playing solid basketball," Lillard said. "It takes a mature, experienced team to be that way. And right now we're still working on becoming that team."
Portland continues to look really solid in stretches, but loses it at times. That was apparent once more against Denver when the Blazers continued to open up double digit leads but let the Nuggets back in often with open 3-pointers or bad timing turnovers. Putting together a full 48 is certainly not an easy task, but the Blazers are going to need to find a way to keep things in rhythm throughout the game if they hope to stay above the play-in tournament line. The good news is Nurkic looked solid once again going against his former team and showed he can still get up for the big games and against the best big men. And Lillard's presence will continue to help the Blazers rack up wins going forward.
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