DENVER — CJ McCollum scored 20 points, picking up the slack with backcourt mate Damian Lillard struggling, and the Portland Trail Blazers turned back the Denver Nuggets 97-90 Wednesday night to even their playoff series at 1-1.
The Trail Blazers led by 15 at halftime, 17 in the third quarter and 14 to start the fourth but the Nuggets pulled to 95-90 in the final minute thanks to an astonishing 14 offensive rebounds and a 19-9 run before Rodney Hood’s two free throws with 17 seconds left iced it.
Lillard added 14 points but was just 5 of 17 from the floor and 1 of 7 from 3-point range. Still, the Blazers seized the home-court advantage with the series shifting to Portland for Game 3 on Friday night.
Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 14 boards but got off to a slow start and wasn’t nearly the take-control force he was in Game 1, when he scored 37 points.
With Jokic taking — and missing — just one shot in the first quarter and scoring six points in the first half, the Nuggets trailed 50-35 at halftime after the franchise’s worst quarter ever at home in the playoffs, one in which they made just 5 of 23 shots and missed all 10 of their 3-pointers.
To top it off, they lost sparkplug forward Torrey Craig, whose nose was bloodied after he was knocked down and slammed into teammate Monte Morris’ foot early in the second quarter.
Moments after Craig hobbled off, leaving a trail of blood, Maurice Harkless rolled his right ankle and also left the game. Harkless didn’t return but Craig came back in the second half.
Jokic had just six points at the half, when the Nuggets were booed off the court after missing their final eight shots. Denver’s backcourt was just 5 of 18 in the first half, including 2 of 11 from Jamal Murray, who would miss much of the fourth quarter while trying to loosen up his tight right thigh he hurt in the last series.
Craig, whose insertion into the starting lineup turned around the Nuggets’ first-round series against San Antonio, returned with a face mask with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. He immediately grabbed a rebound and his 3-pointer with a minute left in the quarter was Denver’s first since 1:11 of the first quarter.
Jokic pushed Enes Kanter, who slammed into Craig with 43.5 seconds left on a made free throw. Murray took exception to Kanter staring down the fallen Craig and a scuffle ensued at midcourt. Teammates raced to break them up and the two were assessed a double technical.
Portland: Starting forwards Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu combined for 10 points in the first quarter after being held to a combined four points in Game 1. … Kanter had a second consecutive solid game despite coming back from a separated shoulder in Portland’s Game 5 clincher over Oklahoma City. … Like Jokic, Lillard got off to a slow start, making just 2 of 8 shots and all of his 3-pointers in the first half.
Denver: The Nuggets missed 23 of 29 3-pointers but didn’t attack the basket until the second half. … Denver is 6-6 all-time against the Trail Blazers in the playoffs. … Will Barton sank two foul shots with 8:19 left in the fourth quarter after an odd sequence in which the Jokic missed a jumper and the Nuggets missed five putbacks before the whistle blew.
Game 3 is Friday night in Portland.