The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers played a choppy and bloody and occasionally stupid but highly entertaining Game 2 Wednesday night, with the Blazers prevailing on the road, 97–90, to tie up the series headed back to Portland. The winner of this series should get a trophy and a parade and should not be subjected to the humiliation of facing the Golden State Warriors, who will certainly make street pizza out of whichever one of them advances to the Western Conference Finals.
This game had a fun kind of frenzied desperation to it. Torrey Craig broke his nose; Moe Harkless screwed up his ankle; Jamal Murray played his fourth quarter minutes while visibly hobbled by a leg injury. Nikola Jokic played the last seven-ish minutes of the game with five fouls. Damian Lillard couldn’t shoot for shit. Enough went wrong for both teams that neither one could coast—the Blazers led by as many as 17 points, but watched the Nuggets barrel back to within five points late, in part because they completely forgot how to grab a defensive rebound. The Nuggets, meanwhile, missed roughly 18 kerjillion bunnies and putbacks and open corner threes.
This sounds like bad basketball, but it was genuinely fun to watch, for the simple fact that it was genuinely competitive. Golden State’s Game 2 win over Houston never produced a lead of greater than 15 points, but also at no time did it seem like the Warriors were even especially annoyed by the Rockets, let alone actually threatened. The Nuggets and Blazers are two wildly imperfect teams, stumbling and crashing around and tripping over their own shoelaces, but by God they are going for it. Unlike the Warriors, neither team has an auto-win Death Lineup at their disposal; unlike the Rockets, both teams score their points by doing old-fashioned things like passing the ball and hoping to take open shots, instead of hoping to take contested shots so that they can hurl their bodies unnaturally into the people doing the contesting. It’s refreshing!
But the shitty truth is, any combination of three Warriors rotation players would turn the earnest bumbling of either of these two teams into a 20–0 game-sealing run. Imagine Mason Plumlee playing rotation minutes in a playoff series against the Warriors. Imagine Terry Stotts pulling names out of a hat to make a five-man Blazers lineup to play consecutive minutes against the Hamptons Five. Imagine the wonderful and magical and extremely poofy Nikola Jokic stepping out to defend Steph Curry or Kevin Durant at 30 feet, 15 times a game, for no fewer than four consecutive games. Imagine Enes Kanter playing three consecutive defensive possessions without somehow going minus-40. It’s ridiculous!
So the Nuggets and Blazers are putting together a tough and feisty and chaotic playoff series, as befits two franchises that haven’t been to the Western Conference Finals in a combined 28 years. The basketball lacks a certain aesthetic beauty (except when Jokic is nutmegging fools), but it more than makes up for it in sincerity. And the reward for winning it will be the opportunity to splatter on the windshield of the runaway War Rig that is the Golden State Warriors. It’s not right.