Lillard leads 3-point barrage, Blazers beat Nuggets 123-109

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Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) passes the ball against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 34 points and led Portland’s 3-point barrage that sparked the Trail Blazers’ 123-109 win over the undermanned Denver Nuggets in the opener of their first-round playoff series Saturday night.

The Blazers hit 19 of 40 shots from beyond the arc, and Lillard, sporting silver sneakers that were a fitting choice for his sterling performance, had five of them.

Subs Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons added four each as the Blazers outscored Denver by 24 points from beyond the arc.

“Look, we’re a 3-point shooting team,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Got 40 3s up. I thought for the most part, they were good looks. To be honest, I think we could’ve shot the ball even better.”

They were plenty good on this night.

“I talked about it quite a lot during the week, can we guard the 3-point line?” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Too many breakdowns. To win a playoff game, especially when you’re undermanned, you have to be on point with everything. You can have great discipline, and we didn’t have it.”

CJ McCollum added 21 points and Anthony scored 18 in his first playoff game against the team that drafted him 18 years ago.

MVP favorite Nikola Jokic led Denver with 34 points, and Michael Porter Jr. chipped in 25. Aaron Gordon added 16.

Game 2 in the series is Monday night.

Porter had a trio of buckets in an 8-0 spurt that pulled Denver within 102-98, but the Blazers soon rattled off an 11-0 run to pull away.

Anthony provided an early spark for Portland with 12 points in the first quarter.

“He gave us the boost that we needed,” Stotts said.

It was Lillard who took over after halftime, scoring 15 points in the third quarter when he sparked a 32-13 run by the Blazers that turned a nine-point deficit into a 96-86 lead.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: The teams hadn’t played in six days, since Portland’s 132-116 home win over Denver on May 16 allowed the Blazers to avoid the play-ins. … Anthony made four of his first five 3-point attempts.

Nuggets: The crowd of 7,750 was the largest of the season. Previously, crowds at Ball Arena were capped at 4,050 during COVID-19 restrictions. … Gordon blocked Lillard’s 6-foot alley-oop and came down with the ball. Moments later, Porter blocked CJ McCollum’s layup and while McCollum was on the floor, Austin Rivers swished a 3 at the other end.

COACH MURRAY

Jamal Murray returned from L.A., where he’s been rehabbing from his ACL surgery, to cheer on his Nuggets teammates.

“Jamal’s a leader of this team whether he is playing or not,” Malone said. “He can’t score a point for us, but he can provide a lot of other things.”

After shooting baskets before the game, Murray took the mic and addressed the crowd before tip-off.

“Man, I wish I was hooping,” he said as he fired up the crowd at the Nuggets’ first home playoff game since May 12, 2019, when they lost Game 7 of their second-round series to Portland.

Also out for the Nuggets were Will Barton (hamstring) and PJ Dozier (hip).

FAMILIAR FACES

Although the Nuggets lost that classic seven-game series two years ago that included a historic 140-137 four-overtime loss to Portland in Game 3, there’s no payback vibe in Denver.

“It can’t be a rallying cry when a bunch of your guys weren’t here for it,” Malone said. “Remember the Alamo! The Alamo? I wasn’t here for that.”

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