PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers have had an uncharacteristically difficult time on offense to start the 2017-18 season, and at no time was that more obvious than in losses last week to the Grizzlies and Nets at the Moda Center.
But perhaps the Trail Blazers just needed to play against one of the best scoring teams over the last two weeks to pick up some pointers.
Portland shot 52 percent from the field with four players scoring in double figures on the way to defeating the Denver Nuggets 99-82 in front of a crowd of 18,895 Monday night at the Moda Center.
“It was a good bounce back win,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously our bench was really good. Everybody from the bench really came in and contributed. You look at the plus-minus for the bench guys, it was a very solid performance. Evan (Turner) had a really good rhythm, I thought Shabazz (Napier) helped out when he came in. Overall, it was just a really good night for us.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers are now 7-6 overall and 5-4 this season at the Moda Center. The victory was Portland’s ninth straight at home versus Denver and is their 15th win in their last 17 games against the Northwest Division foe.
Despite the Nuggets entering the game having won three straight and five of their last six, the Trail Blazers claimed the momentum early in the first half. A 12-2 run gave Portland a 23-16 advantage, though the Nuggets would answer back to to cut the lead to 25-21 by the start of the second quarter.
But after that brief pushback, Portland outscored Denver 19-7 with a unit comprised entirely of reserves in the first seven minutes of the second quarter to take a 43-29 lead after a Noah Vonleh 17-footer.
“I just think we went on a run and was able to keep it defensively and offensively,” said Evan Turner of the bench play Monday night. :I think we’re all clicking, I think we picked up our communication. Slipped away a little bit but then I think our first unit and put together their own run and the second unit came in and held it up.”
But even with Portland’s starters and reserves finding their rhythm, the Nuggets managed to right the ship in the second half of the quarter to cut Portland’s lead to five by the intermission.
After playing to a duel to start the second half, Portland closed out the third by outscoring Denver 15-4 in the final four minutes of the quarter to take what was their largest lead of the night at 84-66 going into the fourth.
All the Blazers needed to do from there was trade baskets, though they would ultimately take a 23-point lead after two Jusuf Nurkić free throws with 6:33 to play. That would be more than enough cushion to get the end of the bench some minutes before coming away with the 17-point victory.
“I thought we built a lead by being consistent,” said Damian Lillard. “We came out, we had good ball movement and we defended. Our hands were active, we were physical, we had guys coming over helping each other out, blocking shots and we were consistent with it. We built the lead up and we didn’t come out and have a big breakdown and give them a chance to win the game. We built that lead up and continued to do the things that gave us the lead. It was a good win for us against a good team.”
Both CJ McCollum and Nurkić finished with 17 points. Lillard went 4-of-14 from the field yet still managed to finished with 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds in just under 34 minutes.
Evan Turner came off the bench to finish with 14 points, five assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes and Napier, who’s minutes have steadily increased over the last few weeks, added eight points in 14 minutes. Vonleh, who came off the bench with rookie Caleb Swanigan getting the first start of his career, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds. All told, Portland’s reserves went a combined 17-of-26 from the field for 42 points.
“Our second unit, they’ve been doing a great job,” said McCollum. “Even in practices, they compete every day and they’ve been very competitive. Coach has been on us in practice to continue to get better and they’ve been pushing us.”
The Nuggets were led by Paul Millsap, who went 6-of-16 from the field for 18 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes. Jamal Murray also added 18 points and five rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers finish off a six-game homestand by hosting the Orlando Magic Wednesday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.