Nurkic dominant against old team
TRAIL BLAZERS 122, NUGGETS 113 Denver’s hope for playo≠s dealt a devastating blow in loss
portland, ore.» Jusuf Nurkic dealt a crippling blow to the fading playoff hopes of his old team. Then he twisted the dagger. “I wish those guys a happy summer,” Nurkic said after his career game led the Trail Blazers to a 122-113 win over the Nuggets, a loss that puts Denver’s postseason chances on life support.
Nurkic, unsatisfied with a backup role in Denver, in February was traded to Trail Blazers, along with a first-round pick, for Mason Plumlee.
All Nurkic did in his first game against his old team was score a career-high 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grab 15 rebounds. He collected six of Portland’s 16 offensive rebounds, setting a physical tone the Nuggets were unable to match.
“Jusuf Nurkic kicked our (butt),” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He was very physical. To come on the road and give up 28 secondchance points, we couldn’t rebound all night. It’s a tough loss for us.”
The Nuggets (35-39), who have lost two straight games and four out of their last six, fell one game behind the Trail Blazers (36-38) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland also clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with the victory. With only eight games remaining in the regular season, the Nuggets must finish two games better than Portland in that final stretch to make the playoffs.
The Nuggets play all but two of their last eight games on the road, while Portland has six of its final eight at home.
Nurkic backed down Jokic midway through the fourth quarter and finished with a tough left-handed hook shot that put the Trail Blazers up 109-100. It was all the cushion the red-hot Blazers needed. By the end of he game, the crowd was chanting, “Jus-uf Nur-kic,” as the third-year center raised his hand to the crowd and asked for more.
“I expected that, to be honest,” said Nikola Jokic, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and
eight assists. “I knew that he was going to be aggressive and try to have the best game of his life.”
Portland did the dirty work in the third quarter, pulling away in a shootout behind Nurkic and C.J. McCollum, who poured in a game-high 39 points. The Blazers blew open a one-point game with an 18-9 run to end the third quarter.
Portland collected 15 offensive rebounds, but none seemed bigger than the one claimed by Damian Lillard in the closing minutes of the third quarter. The extra possession ended with a 3-pointer that put the Blazers up by 10.
The Trail Blazers had threatened to flip the game in the blink of an eye with a 10-0 run midway through the second quarter. Portland trailed 52-46 when Nurkic brought the home crowd alive with a driving dunk. McCollum followed with a 3pointer, Nurkic scored again inside and Lillard buried a 3pointer. In just 90 seconds, Portland had grabbed a fourpoint lead and ignited the crowd.
But separation was a rare commodity early. The Nuggets used an 8-0 run of their own to jump back in front.
Back and forth they went, a playground seesaw flipping to turbo mode.
But the Nuggets ran out of answers in the second half. And they are rapidly running out of hope.
Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, formerly of the Nuggets, urges the Portland crowd to cheer louder after he scored and drew a foul against Denver forward Danilo Gallinari during the first half of Tuesday’s game. Portland won 122-113. Steve Dykes, The Associated Press
Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic drives to the basket on Trail Blazers center and former Denver teammate Jusuf Nurkic on Tuesday night in Portland, Ore. Steve Dykes, The Associated Press