PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have been good at bouncing back all season.
Not even a draining four-overtime defeat could keep this team down.
Nikola Jokic had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second straight triple-double and fourth of the playoffs, and the Nuggets evened their Western Conference semifinal series against the Portland Trail Blazers at 2-2 with a 116-112 victory Sunday.
It was less than 48 hours after Portland’s epic 140-137 quadruple-overtime victory to take a 2-1 lead in the series. It was only the second game in playoff history that went to four OTs. The other was in 1953.
“I think it’s not quitting. We have a lot of competitive guys who don’t want to lose. I think we don’t want to lose more than we like to win — which is weird,” Jokic said. “We just didn’t want to have the excuse that we lost because of four overtimes, because we were tired.”
Jamal Murray led all scorers with 34 points and made all 11 free throws for the Nuggets, who handed Portland its first postseason loss at home this season. The series now heads back to Denver for Game 5.
CJ McCollum had 29 points and Damian Lillard added 28 for the Blazers, who missed out on taking a 3-1 lead in a conference semifinals for the first time since 2000.
“Our guys are tough. We’re resilient,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I mean, to come in here and win this game 36 hours after losing in four overtimes, speaks to just how tough we are.”
Malone cited regular-season statistics to back up his claims: Denver was 12-1 in the second game of back-to-backs, best in the NBA. The Nuggets were good in close games, too: 13-3 in games decided by three points or less, he said.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘If we win today then the last game doesn’t really matter that much,'” Jokic said. “Yes we played a four-overtime game, it was exhausting, but we won tonight so the last game doesn’t really matter.”
Denver outscored the Blazers 27-14 in the third quarter to take an 84-77 lead into the fourth. Malik Beasley kicked off the final period with a 3-pointer for the Nuggets.
Rodney Hood’s 3-pointer got the Blazers within 110-107 with 52 seconds left and Lillard’s layup got the Blazers even closer at 112-110 with 7.7 seconds to go.
But Murray’s free throws gave Denver a four-point lead. McCollum hit a long jumper that after a video replay was ruled a 2 and Denver prevailed.
“It is disappointing. You go up 3-1 and you have a lot of momentum and obviously that would be a great position to be in. But they’re a good team, they came out and played well,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We had a bad third quarter and that kind of made the difference. We made a good comeback, but now it’s a three-game series.”
Jokic played 65 minutes in the quadruple-overtime loss, the fourth-most minutes in NBA playoff history and just two short of the record. McCollum led the Blazers with 60 minutes.
Fatigue was more of a concern for the second-seeded Nuggets, who had just one day off after their seven-game, first-round series against San Antonio. The Blazers dispatched of first-round opponent Oklahoma City in five games, clinching their first trip to the conference semifinals since 2016 on Lillard’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Enes Kanter started for Portland despite ongoing concerns about his left shoulder, which he injured in Game 5 against the Thunder. He and Jokic have been physical adversaries through the first three games, and Kanter said after Friday’s game that the shoulder separation was worse and wasn’t sure he could play.
Seth Curry made three straight 3-pointers — all in the space of a minute — to put Portland up 53-46 in the second quarter. Curry added a 3 at the buzzer to send Portland into halftime with a 63-57 lead. Curry had 14 of his 16 points in the second quarter.
The Nuggets opened the second half with an inspired 10-2 run to go up 67-65. Paul Millsap’s 3-pointer gave Denver a 78-72 lead, and after a couple of calls that went against Portland and drew the ire of the Moda Center fans, Jokic added a bank shot.
Nuggets: Torrey Craig, who got a bloody nose in Game 2 and wore a mask in Game 3, didn’t wear it on Sunday. … The Nuggets finished 3-1 in the regular-season series against the Blazers. … The two teams have met twice in the playoffs before, with each team winning once.
Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic, who broke his leg late in the season, was at the game and got an ovation when he showed up courtside late in the opening quarter. Kanter, who signed with the Blazers just before the All-Star break after he was waived by the Knicks, replaced Nurkic in the starting lineup. Nurkic was awarded with the Maurice Lucas Award for the player that best represents Lucas’ indomitable spirit both on the court and in the community.
MURRAY MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
Malone praised Murray, who also had 34 points in the 4OT loss. Murray has been tasked with guarding Lillard.
“You think about how young we are and what we are doing, going on the road and winning a tough game in a hostile environment, and for Jamal to be the centerpiece of that has been phenomenal,” Malone said.
Jokic went to the bench late in the game holding his right knee, but later came back and appeared fine. Asked about it later, he said it was a bit numb. “I just got hit on the side of the knee but it’s OK,” he said.
The series moves to Denver for Game 5 on Tuesday.
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