No extra drama needed for Nuggets, Blazers in Game 7

NBA.com Global on May 12, 2019 06:55 PM
No extra drama needed for Nuggets, Blazers in Game 7
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, center, passes the ball away from Denver Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee, left, center Nikola Jokic, second from left, and forward Torrey Craig, right, during overtime of Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Friday, May 3, 2019, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

DENVER -- All the posturing you can muster won’t win you this all-important game.

No amount of name-calling, shoving, screaming, shouting or tough guy antics and gestures will save you when it’s all on the line in Game 7 of the NBA playoffs.

And there are enough guys playing for both the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers that know it, even if most of them have only observed a Game 7 from the stands or even further afar.

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It’s a simple proposition, these Game 7 affairs.

You win, you play on. Your season continues and all of the goals you set are still attainable.

You lose, you’re done. None of the things you believed in before that last opening tip of the season remain. Pack up your stuff and head home for the summer.

That’s the reality, the fate both the Nuggets and Trail Blazers are facing Sunday afternoon (Monday morning, PHL time) at Pepsi Center, the all-important Game 7 showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that will define one team’s season and render the other’s mute.

There’s a finality to it, a certain air of drama that cannot be found anywhere else in the postseason.

So it doesn’t matter if you have “sassy *** dudes, frontrunners,” as Blazers reserve guard Seth Curry put it after things got chippy late in Game 6 Thursday night (Friday, PHL time), one side or broadcast talent on the other taking cheap and unnecessary shots at injured Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, Sunday afternoon's (Monday, PHL time) business is an up-and-down affair for all involved.

Win and you play on or lose and you’re done.

“I’m looking forward to Game 7,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Games 7s are special.”

No extracurricular activity from either side will change that fact.

“Both teams want to win the game,” said Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. “Basketball is an emotional game. Of course, we’re going to talk trash or whatever. Both teams just want to win the game.”

That doesn’t mean you don’t look for every advantage possible to help fuel your cause.

Blazers big man Zach Collins played a huge role in making sure this series found its way to Game 7, joining Rodney Hood in providing a huge boost off the bench in Game 6.

And it was more than just his season-high 29 minutes and playoff career-high 14 points and five blocks. It was his physicality and activity around the rim and in the paint on both ends of the floor, his refusal to allow the Nuggets to find a groove.

“We’ve just got to go in and keep playing our game,” Collins said. “I said it after the game, [Denver] has been way too comfortable for a lot of games in this series and [in Game 6] we made them a little uncomfortable. We just need to continue that, regardless of if it’s a Game 7 or not. Obviously, it’s win or go home for both teams. It’s going to be very difficult, especially in [Denver] to go in and get a win, but we can do it.”

The Nuggets leaned on their sterling 34-7 record at Pepsi Center during the regular season, the best home mark in the league, as a confidence booster two weeks ago.

“We have the best home court advantage in the NBA,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re going to rely on that once again and try to close it out in Game 7.”

The Nuggets owning that recency advantage: they needed a Game 7 win here to survive the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, means something. The game and that series provided lessons Malone’s postseason rookies need to tap into this time around, even if they don’t realize it now.

“It’s weird,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “Everybody keeps talking about experience. And I just want to say that we’ve been here before. [We go] back home and regroup like we did for San Antonio, come back with energy and just … be ready to play. I think we had too many lapses [in Game 6]. Dame [Lillard] felt really comfortable, he wasn’t comfortable last time, so we need to be tougher on him … like I said, just regroup, come back and get a win.”

If only it was that simple. The pressure to get out of the first round is one thing. The opportunity to make the conference finals is a different monster. The Nuggets last played in a conference final in 2009, when Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Nene led the way.

That group had a mix of seasoned pros who had championship (Billups) and extensive experience (Billups and Martin) competing on a championship level, to go along with younger and emerging superstar talent like Anthony. And they were ultimately no match for the Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol-led Los Angeles Lakers.

So these current Nuggets are well within their right to acknowledge the very real anxiety that comes with a game of this magnitude.

“No nerves, “Jokic said. “I just felt something different the first game of the playoffs because it was something different. Just because we call it the playoffs, Besides that, everything else is the same.”

The Blazers haven’t seen a Game 7 since a 2003 first-round series against Dallas.

But they do not believe the absence of experience in this case makes any bit of difference.

“It’s just another game -- a game we want to win, obviously,” Blazers guard CJ McCollum said. “We understand what’s at stake. Somebody’s got to go home. Somebody’s got to go to Cabo, go to Cancun, as Chuck [Barkley] would say. For us, it’s go out there and compete, find the coach’s game plan, understanding that it’s going to be a pretty hostile crowd and they’ll be confident at home, but we’ve got to bring the energy and pressure just like we did [in Game 6].”

Damian Lillard has guided his team this far and promised to stick to the basics in the days and hours leading up to the game. Rested bodies and minds are crucial.

“The number one thing is have our minds right,” he said. “Don’t overthink, don’t make some big crazy deal or anything like that. We’re going to play a basketball game. It’s a big game and we’ve won on their floor before and we know what type of mentality we had when we did that. We’ve got to go out there, be tough, be physical, be sharp in our scouting report, play for each other, play with each other on both ends and just put the pressure on them.

“Make them earn everything on their offensive end and then when we get the ball, make sure that we get shots up,” Lillard continued with his simple but extremely detailed breakdown of what needs to be done. “Value every possession, don’t go out there turning the ball over, playing into their hands where they get an opportunity to get their crowd involved. So that has to be our mentality, to just be sharp, be physical, go in there ready to take the game, because the only way it’s going to happen is us going in there and taking it.”

It’s a Game 7, after all, no extra drama needed.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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