PORTLAND, Ore. — What games over the course of NBA history do you think of when you hear the term “instant classic”? Add Game 3 of the Nuggets and Trail Blazers’ first-round series to the list.
The Nuggets and Trail Blazers needed four overtimes to determine the winner of Friday night’s matchup, a thrilling 140-137 Portland win. It was only the second game in NBA playoff history to include four extra periods of basketball and the first since 1953.
Nikola Jokic played 64 minutes and 58 seconds. No, that’s not a typo. And after checking in at the 9:52 mark of the second quarter, Jokic didn’t sub out for the rest of the night. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard logged 60 and 57 minutes respectively. Jamal Murray, who looked to operating on one leg for most of the night, played 55 minutes and finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Here’s how it went down.
11 a.m. Friday morning | The Nuggets wrap up shootaround at Moda Center eight and a half hours prior to Game 3. Spirits are high even though their starting point guard hasn’t been right since taking a Jakob Poeltl knee to the thigh in the Nuggets’ first-round series and Denver’s primary defender on Damian Lillard suffered a nose contusion in Game 2 that will require him to wear a mask.
Michael Malone: (Murray’s) banged up. He’s still I think a little banged up from the first-round, a hard-fought seven-game series against San Antonio. And this is what the playoffs are all about. … How do you get through it? How mentally tough are you? How physically tough are you? I think once he gets moving, once he gets loose, I think he’ll be fine.
Jamal Murray: I’m sore. For sure, definitely sore. But I’m ready to play.
Torrey Craig: I don’t really like the mask. It’s not good breathing out of it. It’s kind of hard to see from the side. It’s definitely a challenge, but I’ll definitely wear it and protect my face.
Malone: Torrey Craig, he’s inspirational to me. His story, seeing where he started where he’s at, now he’s starting NBA games, and I’m so happy our fans recognized his impact, chanting his name was a great moment for him, his mom, his son, who were at the game.
Craig: If you get hit again, you get hit again.
Malone: Everybody’s a little banged up.
Murray: I always play through pain. It’s something I’ve always done. I always put myself through more and do more than I can. Playing through pain is just another challenge for me. I’m gonna do it regardless of the stakes. Just try to be smart about it, obviously. If it’s something I can play through, it’s what I’m gonna do.
7:30 p.m | The Trail Blazers race out to six-point lead after the first quarter. Jamal Murray scores a team-high 16 first-half points before Will Barton comes alive after halftime.
Murray: Adrenaline kicks in. I’m not thinking about my leg or my shoulder.
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts: I have no idea what happened in the first half or the second half or the first three overtimes.
Malone: Tonight was the first game in the playoffs where (Barton) really had an impact on the offensive end of the floor. He went out there off the bench. 8 of 18 from the field, 3 of 7 from 3, nine rebounds, 22 points. He’s played against these guys. He’s played in this building. And I thought he gave us a good lift offensively and defensively and on the glass. It was great to see, and I’m happy for Will.
Barton: I was just happy to be out there, given a chance to compete and try to make plays for us to win. That’s all I was thinking about.”
Murray: It was a lot of minutes for everybody. I think Will had 38 off the bench. That’s just ridiculous.
The Nuggets burn a timeout at the 4:13 mark of the third quarter while trailing 67-62 and decide to get Jokic going.
Malone: There was one timeout. I’m not sure when it was. I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get this big fella going. We’ve got to start getting him the ball. I don’t care if they’re double-teaming him or not. Let’s get him the ball, let him make plays, let him be aggressive and score.’ And he was able to do so.
Jokic: He said, ‘We’ve got to get you going.’ I felt that I had to be aggressive to get everybody working again.
Barton: (I was) just trying to keep (Jokic’s) head up mentally. Telling him, ‘We’re gonna close this thing out.’ I didn’t know it would go to four overtimes, but after each overtime, I kept telling him, ‘We got this.’
Malone: Nikola even going into the third and fourth overtime, I just said, ‘You’re not tired! You’re not tired!’ And he was phenomenal.
The Nuggets lead 129-127 in the third overtime with less than 20 seconds remaining, but Jamal Murray turns the ball over.
Malone: There were a couple of moments where I thought we had the game. And obviously the big turnover on the sideline with Jamal with C.J. McCollum knocking the ball away. It was almost like, ‘When is this game going to end?’ It kept on going and going and going.
Murray: It came down to a couple of points, it came down to my turnover, I actually had four of them. I’ve just got to be better.
With the Nuggets and Trail Blazers tied at 129, Jamal Murray has a chance to win the game, but his 31-foot 3 over Enes Kanter didn’t fall.
Murray: I wasn’t expecting them to switch. I looked up, and I only had two seconds. It was really my only option at the time. Going through it now, I probably could have done something different, but I looked up, two seconds on the clock and I already backed up. I think our mistake was going too late in that situation. We’ll learn from it.
Malone: This was a great experience for our young guys. So many teaching moments for Jamal Murray. It was a learning experience for Jamal.
Hood enters the game for Portland with Denver leading 133-131 with 1:59 remaining in the fourth overtime and scores the Trail Blazers’ next seven points.
Stotts: I’d like to take credit for that (substitution), but Moe (Harkless) was cramping up a little bit.
Trail Blazers forward Rodney Hood: I was telling (Gary Trent Jr.) and (Anfernee Simons) that if I got a chance, I was gonna end it.
Moe Harkless: Rodney came in any closed the game out for us, so he was huge.
Damian Lillard: At one point we were down two, coach called a play for him and he scored it and the next time I was like, ‘Same play.’ And he looked at me like, ‘What are we doing?’ And I was like, ‘Same thing, let’s keep it rolling.’ And he hit another one.
Stotts: Rodney Hood came in and played great. It was a hell of a game. I’ve never been involved in a game like that, regular season or playoffs.
Malone: They went to him. He went right at Jamal Murray a few times, I think two times in a row.
Harkless: When things get tough we just lean on each other even more. I remember I think it was the third overtime, Dame pulled us in when we were about to shoot free-throws and he was like, ‘Look, we’re right here, we’ve just got to stay together and keep trusting it. Stay focused for these last however many minutes and it ended up being, another five after that. We just lean on each other and stick together and find that energy from each other.
Nikola Jokic logs 65 minutes in the loss, the fourth most minutes for a single game in NBA playoffs history (Red Rocha, Paul Seymour, Bob Cousy). Jokic finished with 33 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists.
Malone: Nikola Jokic played 65 minutes tonight — that’s unheard of, that’s ridiculous.
Harkless: 65 minutes. That’s crazy.
Jokic: In that moment, at that time, you’re not thinking about how many minutes you’re playing. You’re trying to win the game. After the game, of course, I think (we played a lot of minutes). But I’m not going to go out during overtime.
McCollum: I think some of them were very fatigued, you could see the look on their face. They’re coming off a seven-game series, so it’s to be expected. I always said when you’re 200 pounds, everybody over 250 has to be exhausted at this point. There’s just more pressure on your joints.
Malone: Nikola Jokic is our best player. We are at our best when he’s on the floor making plays for himself or his teammates. When I rode him that fourth quarter, I had no idea it was going to go into four more overtimes. As we’re going along, I’m saying, ‘Wow, how are we going to get through this one?’ So I apologized to him in the locker room. And he doesn’t complain. He said, ‘You don’t have to apologize.’ But I’ve never seen that. 64:58. That is a real number. That is a real number. But he was fantastic. 33 points, 18 rebounds, 14 assists. The guy was incredible. And I was just hoping we could win the game, and I could get him home and get him some rest. But it just didn’t go our way.
Lillard: I was really tired. You start to cramp up a little bit, get a little bit tired, but we knew that they were going through the same things so it wasn’t like we were just out there having a long practice. It was a game, there was another team out there going through the same thing that we were. … It was just a matter of who’s going to fight through and get that one extra rebound, that one extra stop, that loose ball, make that free-throw. Who’s going to be the team to do those things in those last two, three minutes of the overtime? Tonight, we were that team.
11:15 pm | Denver is down 2-1 in the series with a pivotal Game 4 looming Sunday in Portland.
Barton: (The loss) is going to sting. It’s going to sting until we step back on the court. I’ll think about it for the rest of my life.
Malone: I have no regrets. We left everything, I left everything out on that floor. So we’ll watch film and try to see what we can do better. But as far as regrets go, I have zero.
Jokic: We were fighting and we were close. We had a couple turnovers, they hit a couple big shots.
Murray: It’s just one of those historic games that didn’t go our way.
Barton: I thought we had it the whole game. I never felt like we were losing, and that’s tough. When you lose and you never feel like you’re going to lose and once that final buzzer goes, you’re like, ‘Man, let one slip away.’
Malone: That game was an instant classic.
Stotts: I think everybody’s pretty tired mentally and physically. You just don’t know. That game was won and lost so many times by both teams. And it was a roller coaster, every overtime was a rollercoaster. I don’t know if this as much elation and it was relief.
Lillard: I was just happy. A game like that, a hard-fought game, four overtimes. Each overtime it seemed like one team had the edge and was going to close it out and allowed the other team to have life and get back into it.
Barton: We’ve been down 2-1. And won the series. Defeated? Definitely no. Just disappointed. We felt like that was our game. We felt like we had it and we lost it. That’s all.