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DENVER, Colo. — The Denver Nuggets entered the first game of the season at the Pepsi Center with more then just basketball on the menu. During halftime, the game was put on hold to commemorate a Nuggets icon and the all-time franchise blocks leader, Dikembe Mutombo.
Yet, the fanfare and celebration around Mutombo was quickly drained. After a 16-0 run to put the Nuggets up 76-70 with 4:18 left in the third quarter, Portland out-executed Denver to a 115-113 overtime win.
After a highly contested first three quarters, the Nuggets lead grew to eight with one minute left before Damian Lillard, who had 37 points on the night, took over.
“When you’re up eight with one minute to go in the game, thats a game that you have to win,” Malone said. “It did not come down to that last play when I thought Gallo got fouled. It’s turnovers, missed free throws, poor execution.”
Here’s how tonight unfolded:
The Trailblazers quickly jumped out to a 11-6 lead. The Nuggets continued their trend of feeding Nurkic inside whenever he has a mismatch and it once again paid off. The weight that Nurkic dropped this offseason combined with the work he’s put in have him looking like an entirely new player. Nurkic finished the first quarter with eight points and two rebounds on 3-4 shooting from the field while shooting efficiently in the restricted area.
Denver allowed Portland to shoot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent beyond the arc, and trailed 33-28 after one quarter. Nurkic lead the Nuggets with eight points. Danilo Gallinari was right behind him with six points of his own.
In the second quarter, Chandler carried the scoring burden for the second unit with 11 points and four rebounds by halftime. The Nuggets began chipping away at Portland’s lead but the shooting of Lillard kept the Trailblazers afloat as Denver continued to draw fouls at a historic pace. The Nuggets ended the half with 22 attempted free-throws to the Trailblazers’ six.
In the second half, Mudiay came out aggressive and scored 13 points in the third quarter on 5-10 shooting and the Nuggets came storming back to lead the game. Mudiay needed a good stretch of basketball and it seemed as if the third quarter was his time. At the end of the third the Nuggets led 88-81 while six Nuggets players finished the quarter in double digits. Lillard continued to lead the Trailblazers and had 28 points on 19 shots.
With 9:18 left in the third, technical difficulties led to lights at the Pepsi Center going out as well as the jumbotron for a short period of time while the Nuggets were nursing a 90-85 lead.
Malone inserted Kenneth Faried for Jokic at center to close the fourth quarter just as he did in New Orleans in the Nuggets first game of the season. Portland and Denver continued to trade buckets down the stretch until Lillard hit another three to cut the Denver lead to just five points with 47.2 seconds remaining.
“Down the stretch, when we get a big stop, 50 seconds to go, we got to slow down and we try to make a home run pass, steal,” Malone said describing the final minute of overtime. “Lillard hits a 3, cuts it to 5. But then we get a couple of timely stops and we’re just not able to convert two free throws and then we turn the ball over, can’t get the ball inbounds and we turn it over then, which gives them more life.”
With 15.1 seconds left. McCollum converted a 3-point play. Mudiay then attempted to inbound the ball after a Nuggets timeout to Jokic but the ball trickled off of Jokic’s hands and out of bounds with 12.3 seconds left.
Mudiay then stripped the ball from Lillard on the subsequent possession, but Wilson Chandler missed two free throws after a Trailblazers foul. A crafty inbounds play from Portland coach Terry Stotts got Lillard a wide open layup and Jokic’s three at the buzzer was off.
The Nuggets dug in defensively in overtime behind Faried and Mudiay, but a Lillard floater with 0.3 seconds left after a questionable non-call on a Gallinari drive sealed things for Portland.
“I thought Gallo got fouled,” Malone said.
Mutombo’s speech before his jersey went to the rafters:
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado | October 29, 2016 | Regular Season Game No. 2
NUGGETS STAR OF THE GAME
Jokic had himself his best game of the year thus far. His line of 23 points, 17 rebonds, four steals, two assists and a block led the team. Jokic had five straight points for the Nuggets in overtime and almost sealed the game. He also helped hold Aminu to 1-6 shooting from three.
PLAYS OF THE GAME
Chandler with the deep three.
Barton hits an insanely difficult floater.
Chandler with the putback dunk off the Mudiay miss.
Faried with a huge block on Lillard.
Nuggets solid team defense.
Mudiay with the strong take.
Mudiay with the beautiful pocket pass.
Mudiay with the huge steal.
Jokic with the big three in overtime.
BY THE NUMBERS
QUOTE OF THE GAME
Mutombo had a wonderful quote about beating the Sonics as the eighth seed that tends to tie into the Nuggets current young roster:
“Nobody, nobody, nobody, in this world wrote that the Nuggets were going to win at least one game in the playoffs. They looked at us being a young team, inexperienced. There was not even no wish for us but the fans of the Nuggets were there with us. The city was there with us, and this state and you could see the ambiance and the energy that was in the Mile High City. It was great. It was great. I miss those moments. If I could live that moment agains I will, but I can say it was a great success.”
The Nuggets will head to Toronto to take on the Raptors beginning a five game road trip. This road trip will be one of the toughest stretches of the year for the Nuggets so beginning with a win against the Raptors, and the explosive backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, will go a long ways towards keeping the momentum in Denver’s favor.