Trail Blazers Fall to Nuggets in First Home Opener Loss Since 2001

Damian Lillard (left) of the Train Blazers and Russell Westbrook (right) of the Thunder. Photo courtesy of James Schumacher

The Portland Trail Blazers kicked off their season at the Moda Center on Oct. 23 with a rematch of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets. The Trail Blazers previously defeated the Nuggets in the seven-game series, pushing them to the Conference Finals. 

Hungry for revenge, the Nuggets took control of the three-point line throughout the night and kept the momentum over Damian Lilliard’s dominant performance. The Trail Blazers suffered their first home opener loss since the 2001 opener against Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers. The 18-year opening game win streak was the longest in NBA history. The Boston Celtics previously held that record from 1979 to 1992.

Lillard started off his season with quite a show on the court, scoring 32 points with eight assists and four rebounds. 

Despite obtaining three fouls in the first four minutes of the game, Nikola Jokic, superstar of the Nuggets, scored 20 points, 13 rebounds and two assists. Shooting 60% from the three-point line, and 57.1% overall, Jokic controlled the game in the paint and behind the three-point line, debatably putting the Nuggets over the edge in the end. 

With the addition of Hassan Whiteside from the Miami Heat this offseason, the Trail Blazers dominated the paint all night long. The injury of Jusuf Nurkic did not seem to bother the Trail Blazers’ offense with Whiteside filling his position. Whiteside scored 16 points of the team’s 54 in the paint, with 19 rebounds, the most of anyone on the court. 

CJ McCollum started out hot with seven of the Trail Blazers’ 15 points in the first quarter. Cooling down in the second half, McCollum ended the night with 12 points and three assists.

Lillard tied the game in the third quarter 72-72, splitting the defenders and finishing the lay-up on the left side. Immediately following, 20-year-old Anefree Simons, coming off the bench, stole the lead with a lay-up, making it the tenth lead change of the night and a 14-5 run for the Trail Blazers. 

CJ McCollum made a clutch 3-pointer, giving Portland a short lead, but was quickly answered by point-guard Jamal Murray with a three-pointer and Nikola Jokic with a jump-shot from the foul line, regaining the lead for the Nuggets. 

Even with Lillard’s 3-pointer with less than two minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Jokic’s back-to-back 3-pointers were too much of a deficit to recover from. In the end, the Trail blazers could not catch up.

The field goal percentage between the Trail blazers and Nuggets was only a difference of 0.6. The Nuggets made 18 of their 27 three-pointers compared to the Trail blazers’ seven of their 28 three-pointers  made, which, in the end, seemed to be the difference in the game. 

The Trail blazers will play the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 2, after going 122-112 versus the Sacramento Kings, 121-119 versus the Dallas Mavericks and 110-113 versus the San Antonio Spurs.

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