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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Nuggets And Blazers Are Exactly What The NBA Playoffs Needed

Illustration for article titled The Nuggets And Blazers Are Exactly What The NBA Playoffs Needed
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer (AP)

The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers had every right to give us a sloppy, disappointing Game 4. On Friday night, they played a four-overtime thriller that left both teams exhausted, one team utterly heartbroken, and one superstar out on his feet. All of this could have easily added up to an 84-80 clunker in Game 4 on Sunday, or a 20-point blowout in either direction. What we got instead was another one of the best games of the entire postseason.


The Nuggets won Game 4, 116-112, and the final score was the result of both teams playing the kind of crisp, mistake-free basketball that nobody should expect to see following a four-OT game. Nikola Jokic followed up his 65-minute run in Game 3 with a 21-11-12 triple-double on 8-of-15 shooting; C.J. McCollum got right back to sliding and slithering through Denver’s defense to score 29 points; Jamal Murray put in 34 and went a perfect 11-of-11 from the line. Even Damian Lillard, who was the only star having anything close to a “bad game” through the first three quarters, locked in late and finished with 28 points.

What’s more impressive is that every player on the floor got better as the game went on. If there’s one passage of play that’s representative of how well these two teams have been pushing each other to become the best versions of themselves, it’s probably this two-minute stretch from late in Game 4:

With 3:02 in the fourth quarter, the Blazers were down 99-98 following a pair of Lillard free throws. What followed is the stretch of plays you see in the video above, in which both teams traded baskets on eight consecutive possessions. Those possessions included inch-perfect Jokic dimes late in the shot clock, two huge buckets from Lillard, and even a cameo from Game 3 hero Rodney Hood. Even the foul game that followed this stretch was entertaining—Lillard and McCollum hit two more clutch shots, and Murray just kept answering them with perfect trips to the line.

This was great basketball, and it’s the kind of basketball the Nuggets and Blazers have been playing all series. Not a single game has been marred by controversial officiating, or corny attempts to draw as many fouls as possible, or bad coaching decisions, or players throwing hissy fits on the court, or anyone making a series-altering mistake. All this series has given us is two evenly matched teams going right at each other for 48 (or 68) minutes, and never slipping. If Warriors-Rockets is too sour to hold in your mouth for more than a few quarters at a time, I suggest turning away from it and taking a big, refreshing sip of Nuggets-Blazers. There are no legacies to sort out or styles to litigate in this series, there’s just two really good basketball teams playing really good basketball.