Moore: The Trail Blazers Owned the Moment in Game 7 Win Over Nuggets

Moore: The Trail Blazers Owned the Moment in Game 7 Win Over Nuggets article feature image
Credit:

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) shoots in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets.

  • The Portland Trail Blazers showed they could live up to the moment with Damian Lillard's shot heard round the world.
  • CJ McCollum's performance on the road in Game 7 took it a step further. They don't just live up to the moment, they own it.

DENVER, Co. — It’s just their year.

The playoffs are dictated by superstars and matchups, but when those two things equal out, sometimes it’s about the sheer momentum of moments. The Portland Trail Blazers’ Game 7 victory over the Denver Nuggets to advance to the Western Conference Finals is proof that sometimes in a close series, it just comes down to who owns the moment.

The Blazers have owned the moment from the start of these playoffs. They were series price underdogs vs. the Thunder, besting them in five games behind an all-time, all-world performance from Damian Lillard. They beat the Nuggets on the road in Game 7 behind multiple all-world performances from C.J. McCollum throughout the series.

Denver had a monster series from their star, Nikola Jokic, as well. He put himself and an upstart young team on the map. The Nuggets finished the series +13 in point differential, having won the majority of the quarters. So in the end, the difference really truly was that the Blazers owned the moment.

They got huge contributions from players like Evan Turner, largely unplayable the entire series. Enes Kanter managed to barely stay on the floor long enough to pick up some easy buckets playing with one shoulder, while fasting for Ramadan — if there are easy buckets under such circumstances. Zach Collins, a first-time playoff performer who air-balled three shots, gave them huge minutes.

In the end, both Oklahoma City and Denver fell short because they generated wide-open looks, but couldn’t hit them. Denver shot 34.6% in the playoffs on uncontested catch-and-shoot jumpers.

In a Game 7, the team that makes open shots wins. That seems reductive, but in a Game 7, all the adjustments have been made, there are no tactical moves to make. It’s about whether you can or can’t hit.

McCollum made a dazzling array of shots, all stuff he absolutely can and will time and time again. He was brilliant, bordering on true superstar status in this series.

He carried Lillard, who was silenced by a blitzing defense that he’s bound to see next. Ah, yes, that pesky question of “what’s next?”

Let’s take a moment to appreciate how Portland seized the moment, how they won on the road in Games 2 and 7, how they gutted out the four-overtime win in Game 3, how they had the guy (McCollum to step up and the role players to have the dice land right for them).

We can be honest about Denver’s inexperience and difficulty with certain elements, about their bench issues, or Jamal Murray’s horrible performance in the close. But Denver will have more days, more times, more moments.

This is Portland’s moment.

Unfortunately, they face the Golden State Warriors, who will blitz Lillard the way the Nuggets did, not with Jokic and Mason Plumlee, but with Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Kevin Durant (at some point). They won’t have the luxury of trying to hide Rodney Hood or McCollum against guards like Murray. Instead they will have Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.

They will face shooters who will hit better than 23% on corner threes as the Nuggets did in this series, and an off-the-bounce shooter in Stephen Curry who will not miss the way Russell Westbrook and Murray did. They will have to defend with Kanter in space in a way he has not been made too, and that’s before Durant gets back to remind people what his name is again.

Portland’s season is gravy at this point. They avoided the embarrassment of another first-round loss, beat the No. 2 seed  on the road, and made the Western Conference Finals. It’s been a remarkable season for Portland, even without Jusuf Nurkic (and potentially Hood who went down with a knee injury).

All of this is just topping on the sundae for them. Which is good, because they’re about to get dunked and dipped in scalding hot cheese by Golden State.

But Denver would have been the same. Neither team had much of a chance vs. Golden State; honestly the -400 series price Golden State opened at seems like a steal.

In 2007, the Utah Jazz saw the bracket break right for them, with the Mavericks suffering a huge upset and the Warriors facing them in the second round. The 2013 Grizzlies benefitted from Westbrook’s first-round injury vs. Houston. Those runs were memorable for those teams.

If the league is so stacked with the Warriors’ dominance, it can’t be a letdown for a team to lose to them. The questions surrounding Portland had been about whether they should trade everyone and rebuild, now they have a conference finals appearance.

That can be dangerous, they should be careful this season, but for the franchise, for Lillard, for McCollum, for Terry Stotts, who was great in this series in the last two games, this is a moment to cherish.

After all, they owned it.