Austin Rivers buries Blazers with fourth-quarter eruption in Game 3 – The Denver Post

PORTLAND, Ore. – Had Austin Rivers made just one crunch-time 3-pointer, it would’ve been the biggest shot of his Nuggets career.

Instead, the journeyman veteran had four such buckets, sinking the Blazers, snatching Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, and wresting homecourt advantage back in Denver’s favor here late Thursday. The Nuggets’ gripping 120-115 win over Portland was yet another nod to their resiliency.

No matter who’s next to Nikola Jokic in the lineup, the Nuggets have proven over and over they’ll have a chance. The Blazers didn’t go quietly, though, only officially giving in after Jokic’s late tip-in sealed the win.

Jokic lifted his teammates with a team-high 34 points, but Denver wouldn’t have escaped with a 2-1 series lead without the ice in Rivers’ veins and Facundo Campazzo’s pestering energy.

Rivers finished with 21 points, punctuated by 16 fourth-quarter points and four 3-pointers. Each successive three whipped the Nuggets’ bench into a frenzy that only ceased after he finally missed one. As a team, Denver shot 20-of-38 from 3-point range.

And Campazzo, who’s come to epitomize Denver’s blue-collar backcourt, added 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

After Carmelo Anthony’s 3-pointer tied the game at 91 with 6:56 remaining, it was all Denver. It didn’t matter that Damian Lillard poured in another 37 points. Rivers ripped their heart out.

Game 4 is Saturday.

Moda Center was decidedly tame for a playoff crowd and one that had just increased its capacity to around 8,000 early in the week. That it only rocked in spurts was a testament to the Nuggets, who hacked into Portland’s momentum whenever the Blazers caught a rhythm.

For the majority of the third quarter, Denver was in control. Jokic drained back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch Denver’s lead to 75-64. Next, Campazzo made his moves. First, the pesky guard stripped Lillard on a slick drive, and then he slipped in front of center Jusuf Nurkic to draw a charge. Both momentum plays kept a lid on Portland’s faithful.

It wasn’t until Carmelo Anthony’s stepback 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the third that Moda came roaring to life. His bucket cut Portland’s deficit to 77-75, but the Nuggets kept responding. After a parade of free throws, including a flagrant foul on Enes Kanter against Jokic, the Nuggets maintained an 84-79 lead going into the fourth.

Before the contest, Nuggets coach Michael Malone called the benches the X-factors of the first two games. He predicted Game 3 would be no different and prayed they wouldn’t see a repeat of what happened two seasons ago.

“We were joking this morning in one of our coaches meetings, how two years ago, in Game 3 in this building, I think I played Nikola 65 minutes out of a potential 68,” Malone said.

On Thursday night, the Nuggets carried a 64-59 lead into the break thanks in large part to their second unit, which outscored Portland’s 20-3. Jokic did the majority of the lifting from an offensive standpoint, yet when he went to the bench for his first shift, Denver’s reserves were invaluable.

As a team, the Nuggets singed the nets from the 3-point line, sinking 12-of-20 in the first half.

JaMychal Green nailed two of them, and Monte Morris finished the first half with four points, five assists and four boards. When Jokic checked back in with 6:19 left, Denver held a 48-43 lead. From there, he, Porter and Campazzo kept making headway on the offensive end. Porter buried two 3-pointers, Jokic logged a team-high 16 points and Campazzo weaved needles through Portland’s defense.

As in Game 2, the Nuggets got numerous contributions up and down the bench, including from two-way guards Shaq Harrison and Markus Howard. Despite the raucous crowd, the stage didn’t seem too big for any of them.

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