PORTLAND, Ore. — Everything is on the line for the Portland Trail Blazers when their first-round NBA playoff series against the Denver Nuggets shifts back to Portland for Game 6. Win and the series goes back to Denver for a decisive Game 7. Lose, and Portland's season is over.
Denver leads the series 3-2 after the Nuggets overcame a historic performance from Damian Lillard to win Game 5, 147-140, in double overtime. Game 6 is Thursday at the Moda Center and Lillard and the Blazers know what's at stake.
"At this point, all that matters is we can't lose another game in this series," Lillard said after Game 5, when he scored a franchise playoff record 55 points and hit an NBA playoff record 12 3-pointers. "We going back home and it's a must-win or our season's over, and then we gotta come back here and win on their floor again. I mean, that's what it is."
The Blazers are trying to avoid consecutive first-round playoff exits after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019.
SUBSCRIBE & LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast
If Portland is going to force a Game 7, the Blazers will need more from Lillard's teammates and the entire team must play better defense.
Jusuf Nurkic has been so impactful in this series, with a team-high +54 plus-minus in his minutes on the court. But he's fouled out of all three Portland losses in the series. That has to change in Game 6 and a potential Game 7.
"He knows how important he is," head coach Terry Stotts said after practice Wednesday, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. "He knows that we need him on the floor as much as possible. We're a much better team when he's on the floor, particularly against Denver. So, everybody knows that.
CJ McCollum, the team's second-leading scorer, struggled in Game 5, missing 15 of 22 shots and six of eight from the 3-point line. For the series, he's averaging 20.6 points and shooting 35.3% from the 3-point line, down from 23.1 and 40.2% in the regular season.
"I have to be better for this team and for [Lillard}," McCollum said after Game 5. "And I will be."
The bench also needs to be better for Portland. In Portland's two wins, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 15 points and shooting 47.8% from the field and 46.1% from 3. In the three losses, he's averaging 10 points and 33.3% from the field and 33.3% from 3. Likewise, in Portland's two wins, Anfernee Simons is averaging 9.5 points and shooting 63.6% from the field and 71.4% from 3. In the three losses, he's averaging 3.7 points and shooting 36.3% from the field and 37.5% from 3.
Finally, Portland has to be better on defense. Portland is giving up 121.5 points per 100 possessions in five playoff games. Only the Nuggets, Grizzlies and Celtics have been worse on defense. The Grizzlies and Celtics have both been eliminated.
The difference in Portland's defense in its wins and losses is staggering. In the two wins, Portland is allowing 109.7 points per 100 possessions. In the three losses, that number leaps to 128.7 points per 100 possessions. The Blazers need to find a way to limit dribble penetration, close out on 3-point shooters and keep Jusuf Nurkic on the court. When Nurkic is on the court, the Blazers' give up just 107.1 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, Portland allows 135.5 points per 100 possessions.
Game 6, Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets
Series: Nuggets lead 3-2
Where: at Moda Center, Portland
Time: 5 p.m.
TV: TNT, NBC Sports Northwest
Radio: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Streaming: Click here for more information about streaming options, including through the NBC Sports MyTeams app, CenturyLink, YouTube TV, Hulu and FuboTV.
Betting line: Blazers -5, via Oregon Lottery Scoreboard
Blazers injury report: Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture) is out.
Nuggets injury report: Will Barton (right hamstring strain), PJ Dozier (right abductor strain) and Jamal Murray (left ACL surgery) are out.
Game 1: Blazers 123, Nuggets 109
Game 2: Nuggets 128, Blazers 109
Game 3: Nuggets 120, Blazers 115
Game 4: Blazers 115, Nuggets 95
Game 5: Nuggets 147, Blazers 140, 2OT
Game 6: Thursday, at Portland, 5 p.m., TNT, NBCSNW
x-Game 7: Saturday, at Denver, time and TV TBD