While you were sleeping, the Blazers and Nuggets played a quadruple-overtime classic, with Portland winning a war of attrition, 140-137. It had bodily sacrifice, unlikely heroes, and an ethically questionable amount of minutes played, but in the end it was [checks tear-stained, beer-soaked, torn and frayed notes] Rodney Hood time. Here are all the Winners and Losers from a Game 3 we’ll never forget.
Winner: Rodney Hood
Chris Ryan: There’s a lot of advanced strategy and tactical maneuvering that goes into coaching in the NBA playoffs. And then there’s looking at your bench, seeing a guy who isn’t in dire need of an IV bag and 18 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and putting him into a quadruple-overtime game being played by the cast of Night of the Living Dead. This was Terry Stotts’s big idea in Portland’s surreal 140-137 win over Denver. I’m sure there were some Hawk actions or some SLOB plays called at some point, but in the end, all Stotts had to do was send Rodney Hood out there because Rodney Hood wasn’t shattered with muscle-shocking exhaustion. Terry Stotts made a sub. And it worked.
Hood, who finished Game 3 with a tidy 19 points on eight shots, in 24 minutes played, joined the late, late show with 1:59 remaining in the fourth overtime, replacing Moe Harkless, who seemed to suffer an injury related to playing 45 minutes of playoff basketball. Hood—who has been something of a piñata over the years for his now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t game—skipped onto the court.
WHAT A GAME!— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2019
Rodney Hood hits the late go-ahead triple and THE @TRAILBLAZERS PREVAIL IN 4OT to take a 2-1 series lead! #NBAPlayoffs #RipCity 140#MileHighBasketball 137
CJ McCollum: 41 PTS, 4 3PM
Damian Lillard: 28 PTS, 8 AST
Enes Kanter: 18 PTS, 15 REB pic.twitter.com/3hOC9dRMxS
And then he floated over Jamal Murray, and then the Blazers danced right off into the night. Hood scored seven of the Blazers’ last nine points, including what was essentially the dagger 3 with 18.6 seconds left, though I would imagine the Nuggets were too tired to feel it.
Often injured and under-used in Utah, and an afterthought in LeBron’s final Cleveland season, Hood has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him heading into his career at Duke. But who needs all that when you get to be a folk hero?
Winner: Nikola Jokic’s Determination
Loser: Nikola Jokic’s Physical Well-Being
Justin Verrier: We almost watched an All-Star die on his feet on Friday. Jokic, a mayonnaise jar of a man, has been bashed throughout his breakthrough fourth NBA season for his lackluster conditioning. And while some of it can get a bit mean, it’s also not unfounded—though he played in 80 games, Jokic averaged just 31 minutes in the regular season, which is quite low for an MVP candidate. He’s two years away from being two years away from his Best Shape of My Life season, so for now, he just rumbles until he can’t anymore, like an old tugboat.
But as the games have gotten more important this postseason, the Nuggets have needed more Jokic. And Jokic, to his credit, has kept on chugging away. In a Game 7 closeout of the Spurs, he logged 43 minutes. In Game 1 against the Trail Blazers, he got through 41 minutes. And then in Friday’s Game 3, Nuggets coach Michael Malone nearly killed one of the best players in franchise history by playing him 65 goddamn minutes. That’s the fourth-most playing time any player has logged, in any game, in all of playoff history. Jokic’s backup, Mason Plumlee—who, lest we forget, is making the fourth-highest salary on this team—played 12 minutes.
We get it—it’s a crucial playoff game, in a hostile arena, and you want to ride the players you can trust. But the diminishing returns started around the second overtime, when Jokic—who, again, usually played less than half as many minutes in the regular season—began wobbling around like he had just done leg day for the first time in his life. And while his final line was well-fed (sorry)—33 points, 18 rebounds, 14 assists—he wasn’t all that effective in the war of attrition: Jokic shot 12-for-20 in regulation, but just 1-for-5 in the four overtimes.
Afterward, Malone told reporters that he apologized to Jokic for having played him so much. That’s a nice gesture for now, but the big repercussion from his decision won’t come until Sunday, when, at 4 p.m. local, the Nuggets and Blazers will do it all over again. Let’s hope Jokic makes it out of the ice bath and to the arena, let alone through even his usual allotment of minutes.
Winner: CJ McCollum
Im trying Jennifer— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) August 15, 2018
Haley O’Shaugnessy: Where were you, Jennifer, when CJ McCollum dropped 41 points in Game 3? I hope you saw him score all of Portland’s seven points in the first overtime, and I hope you saw him tie the game with 8.7 seconds left to push it to a second OT. Did you catch his back-to-back jumpers in the third overtime? The assist he sent midair to Hood for the 3 in the fourth overtime that won the game? Can my man finally speak?
Portland’s lack of postseason success gave Jennifer her ammo. Consecutive first-round exits were the reason the Blazers weren’t respected playoff contenders, the reason that Damian Lillard wasn’t fully appreciated, and the reason that McCollum isn’t a real star. He’s a star in Portland. He’s a League Pass must-watch. He’s the guy who will give you 40 on a random day in December. But he’s missing a non-negotiable prerequisite for the next level. Regular-season acclaim doesn’t mean anything if it’s followed with a bad playoff performance.
This game was McCollum handing in his application for the next level. McCollum had 13 points on the board entering the fourth quarter; he finished with 41—and eight rebounds, four assists, four steals, one block, and ONLY ONE (1!) TURNOVER. His pull-ups were too quick, his hesitations too convincing, his finishes around the rim lofted too high for the defense to stop. His go-ahead 3s came at exactly the right moment(s), and his teardrops floated over Denver’s big men and into our hearts. In a game chock-full of heroes, McCollum was the kingpin.
He’s not even tired, Jennifer.
Winner: Enes Kanter
Ryan: It’s a testament to how good Kanter has been in this postseason that the Billy Donovan “can’t play Kanter” meme has been consigned to the dustbin of content history. Sure, something could transpire in the coming games to relegate Kanter back to cartoon character status, but this guy has earned a ton of respect over the past few weeks. After practically begging his way out of New York, Kanter joined the Blazers and seemed just happy to ride along. But an injury to Jusuf Nurkic made him a crucial part of the team, and he seems to click amazingly well with Portland’s shot-happy backcourt. Clearly dealing with an agonizing shoulder injury and off-court issues that would distract anyone, Kanter has been the absolute best version of his basketball self on the Blazers. He played 56 minutes on Friday, with one arm, essentially guarding Wun Wun. Love him or nitpick the hell out of his defense; either way, he’s shown you can play him. You might have to.
Loser: Michael Malone
O’Shaughnessy: Even Jim Boylen thinks Malone went too far. Denver’s endearingly out-of-shape center—the guy they call Big Honey—played 65 minutes. Scary? Yes. Criminal? I don’t have time to check Portland law. I’m exhausted. And I only watched! Malone stuck with his starters for almost all of the four overtimes, but the man he played the most of all was himself: The Nuggets and Blazers have to get back on the court in Portland in less than 40 hours, and the Nuggets are now down 2-1 in the series. Thank the home-court rules for Game 4 not being in Denver’s altitude.