Blazers hold off Nuggets to level playoff series

Los Angeles (AFP) –


C.J. McCollum scored 20 points as the Portland Trail Blazers held off a late rally from the Denver Nuggets to score a series-leveling victory in their NBA Western Conference playoff duel on Wednesday.

McCollum led the scorers in a hard-fought 97-90 victory on the road at Denver's Pepsi Center to tie the best-of-seven series at 1-1.

Portland talisman Damian Lillard had a relatively quiet night, restricted to just 14 points after shooting five-of-17 from the field.

However, double-digit contributions Enes Kanter, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Al-Farouq Aminu helped Portland get over the line.

"I really liked our approach in the first half, particularly the first quarter," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

"I thought we were a lot better offensively than in game one. We did a better job on the ball. I liked the tone we set for most of the game."

The Blazers looked to be cruising towards a comfortable victory after a dominant first half, surging into a 50-35 lead at the break.

They opened up a 17-point lead early in the third quarter, and led by 14 heading into the final period.

That, however, was the cue for a sustained Denver assault, with the Nuggets slowly chipping away at the Portland lead.

A driving layup from Nikola Jokic put Denver within five points at 95-90 with 34 seconds left on the clock.

But a foul by Mason Plumlee gifted two free throws to Hood, who coolly drained both attempts to take the Blazers 97-90 clear with 17 seconds remaining.

Jokic led the Denver scorers with 16 points while Jamal Murray added 15. Paul Millsap finished with 14 points.

- Defensive effort -

Stotts meanwhile praised the defensive effort that restricted Jokic, but was unhappy that the Serbian managed to haul down 14 rebounds throughout the game.

"I thought we pressured him a little bit more," Stotts said. "He didn't get the clean looks that we gave him in game one. He got too many offensive rebounds in the fourth though. We were very fortunate that we weren't hurt as badly as we could have been."

Game three in the series takes place in Portland on Friday.

Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Denver had struggled to match Portland's physical approach in the first half.

"In that first half they were the aggressor, they were much more physical," Malone said.

"But I'm extremely proud of the way they came back in the second half. But we've got to do it for 48 minutes and that was the most disappointing thing about tonight -- we brought it in the second half but in the first half it was not there."

Stotts meanwhile had raised eyebrows earlier, wearing a bowtie on the sidelines during the game. The Blazers coach revealed it was a tribute to video co-ordinator Jonathan Yim, who was injured in a car crash with his family last week.

"On Wednesdays, Jon would wear bowties to the game, so tonight was bowtie Wednesday," Stotts said. "I think bowties are undefeated this year."