Basketball / NBA

Blazers down Nuggets to even series 1-1

AP

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 on 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.

“The good news is they had all of those offensive rebounds but they didn’t convert a lot,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They were 8-for-24 on second-chance points. We were fortunate we came away not hurt as badly as we could have been on the offensive boards.

“(Nikola) Jokic and (Paul) Millsap were just playing volleyball with it. They’re both excellent offensive rebounders. They’re a top-three offensive rebounding team anyway and we’ve got to make sure they don’t have those opportunities in Game 3.”

Lillard added 14 points but was just 5 of 17 from the floor and 1 of 7 from 3-point range, 24 hours after scoring 39 in the series opener. Still, the Blazers seized the home-court advantage with the series shifting to Portland for Game 3 on Friday night.

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.

Denver coach Michael Malone said he admonished his team at halftime, “if you’re not making shots, maybe attack the basket, maybe get to the foul line, maybe get to the rim. And we were getting such open looks.

“I understand our players shooting the shot. But when you’re not having a night when you’re making a shot consistently, you’ve got to attack the basket, you’ve got to push pressure on the rim. You’ve got to think attack instead of settle. And I thought in that first half we didn’t have that mindset.”

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.

The Nuggets were booed off the court at the break 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.

“I think Torrey Craig is the unsung hero of the game,” Malone said. “He’s got some (guts). He’s got some toughness.”

In other NBA news, Vince Carter says he will return next season for a record 22nd NBA campaign at age 42, although it might not be with his current club, the Atlanta Hawks.

Once among the NBA’s elite players, eight-time NBA All-Star swingman Carter will find himself alone in NBA endurance if he can sign a contract for another season.

Retiring Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, former Boston star centers Kevin Garnett and Robert Parish and forward Kevin Willis are the only players in NBA history to match Carter’s 21 league seasons. Carter revealed his plans on his “Winging It” podcast, saying, “I’m coming back.”