Nikola Jokic scored 37 points and the Nuggets withstood Damian Lillard’s 39-point effort and Enes Kanter’s strong return to Portland’s lineup in a 121-113 win over the well-rested Trail Blazers in the opener of their second-round playoff series in Denver on Monday night.
Lillard, who struck for 50 points last Tuesday, including a 37-footer at the buzzer to oust Oklahoma City in five games, missed 8 of 12 3-point attempts and Gary Harris blocked his 3 from behind in the closing minute to keep the Trail Blazers from getting closer.
Jamal Murray added 23 points for Denver, which was making its first appearance in the second round in a decade, and Paul Millsap scored 19.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.
Back-to-back layups by Lillard cut Portland’s deficit to five points with nine minutes left, but Jokic sank two free-throw tries off CJ McCollum’s flagrant foul sandwiched by two dunks by Mason Plumlee as Denver pushed its lead back to double digits at 107-96.
Denver was coming off a 90-86 win over San Antonio 48 hours earlier, its first Game 7 victory since May 3, 1978, against Milwaukee. The Trail Blazers, who are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season, had nearly a week off after dispatching Oklahoma City in five games to advance for the first time in three years.
Yet, the Nuggets had the energy at altitude and won the fourth time in five games.
The Trail Blazers did get a boost from Kanter, who separated his left shoulder in Game 5 against the Thunder. He had 14 points by halftime when Portland trailed 58-55. He finished with 26 points and seven rebounds.
Jokic made all 12 of his free-throw tries and added nine rebounds and six assists.
76ers 94, Raptors 89: Jimmy Butler had 30 points and 11 rebounds, James Ennis scored 13 points and visiting Philadelphia held off Toronto, evening their Eastern Conference semifinal series 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday night in Philadelphia. The 76ers’ Joel Embiid scored 12 points in 32 minutes despite missing the morning shootaround because of flu-like symptoms. The Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points, Pascal Siakam had 21 and Kyle Lowry 20. Toronto shot 10-for-37 from 3-point range and 33-for-91 overall as its franchise-record postseason winning streak ended at five games.
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