The Portland Trail Blazers will attempt to rally from a 3-2 deficit in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history when they host a must-win Game 6 on Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
Second-seeded Denver put third-seeded Portland in a hole with a 124-98 home romp on Tuesday in Game 5 of a series that had been remarkably even through four contests.
Each team won once on the other’s home court in those first four games, including the Nuggets’ 116-112 victory Sunday at Portland that erased a 2-1 deficit and returned the home-court advantage to the Northwest Division champs.
Denver, with four starters who had no playoff experience before this season, is one win away from its first trip to the Western finals in 10 years.
A deciding Game 7, if necessary, would be played in Denver on Sunday.
In a matchup that has gotten progressively more one-sided as the series has gone along, Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic dominated Portland’s fasting Enes Kanter in Game 5, recording a 25-point, 19-rebound double-double.
Meanwhile, Kanter, who is honoring Ramadan by not eating from sunrise to sunset, countered with just nine points on 2-for-9 shooting to go with a team-high eight rebounds.
“They just played harder than us,” Kanter admitted to reporters after the game. He’s been playing with a separated left shoulder that occurred in the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Even the coach said, probably this was our worst basketball the last six weeks,” Kanter continued. “On defense, we weren’t really communicating with each other; we didn’t really trust each other. We’ve just got to learn from this and just go home and take care of home, because right now, that’s the most important game of the year.”
The Trail Blazers haven’t as much as made it to a Game 7 since losing a winner-take-all game to Dallas in the first round in 2003. They last won a seven-game series against San Antonio en route to the NBA Finals in 1990, but that was only after holding a 3-2 lead and losing Game 6.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, experienced a similar situation in the first round, when they won two straight against San Antonio to go up 3-2, before allowing the Spurs to draw even at home, setting up a tense Game 7 that Denver won.
“We know going to Portland for Game 6 is going to be really tough,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said at his postgame press conference Tuesday. “Game 6 in San Antonio, we did not come ready to play, mentally or physically. I hope that we have a much different mindset going in to Portland for Game 6.”
While the physical limitations of the injured Kanter might not allow it against Jokic in the battle of big men, the Trail Blazers must turn things around in the backcourt to maximize their chances of staying alive.
Damian Lillard has shot just 7-for-32 on 3-pointers since exploding for 39 points in Game 1 of the series, while sidekick CJ McCollum totaled only 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 5, his lowest scoring playoff game since 2017.