PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers gave away the ball, gave away points, gave away easy opportunities — but somehow, someway, didn’t give away the game.
On a night in which it committed 25 turnovers and forced just seven, Portland did something in the final three minutes that seemed inconceivable through the first 45: Hang on.
The result was a 111-102 win over the Nuggets that improved their record to 3-0 for the second consecutive year.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blazers have never had such a lopsided turnover disparity while still coming up with a victory. That, right there, is a fact. But if you’re looking for an explanation, well, you’re own your own.
“I’m confused, too. I’ve got to look at the tape,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Confusing game in the sense of what the stat sheet looked like and what we did.”
Speaking of stat sheets, if one were to base his expectations on box scores from Portland’s previous two games, he would have been in for a surprise on Thursday.
Entering the game against Denver, Blazers guard Wesley Matthews was 8 for 28 from the field while teammate Raymond Felton averaged 8.5 points per contest. However, against Denver, Matthews scored 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting (5 of 8 from 3-point distance) while Felton posted 23 points on 10 of 16.
Asked for his reaction to Thursday’s performance, Matthews made clear what he was feeling.
“Relief,” said Matthews, who hit all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half. “That’s what it was — just relief. Finally.”
Felton didn’t express his emotions quite as transparently, but it’s hard to believe that his game didn’t lift at least a few pounds off of his shoulders.
The starting point guard was not part of the finishing five that closed out Sacramento on Tuesday night, and it appeared that he would again be left off the court in the game’s most critical moments.
After checking in at the scorer’s table with five minutes remaining and the Blazers up by three, Felton was called back to the bench after Matthews knocked down his fifth 3-pointer.
But with three minutes left and his team ahead by four, Felton subbed in for Marcus Camby … and went on to score Portland’s final seven points.
“The shots were there so I took them,” said Felton, adding that he had no problem heading back to the bench after the scorer’s-table tease. “It’s nice for the fans to get a chance to see what I’m capable of.”
But the fourth quarter’s true star was Blazers guard Jamal Crawford, who scored 14 of his 22 points in the last 12 minutes. The 31-year-old reserve went 3 of 4 from the field and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line in that final stanza to help his new team pull away.
When added with Matthews’ and Felton’s production, Crawford’s total means that Portland’s three most prominent guards combined for 70 points — quite a change from the previous two games, in which forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace carried most of the offensive load.
Thursday, that pair was held to 13 points apiece.
It certainly didn’t appear that Portland would need any late-game heroics after the first quarter, when the Blazers held a 30-17 lead. However, Denver countered, tied the score by halftime, and led by four points at one point in the third.
Portland managed to stay in the game by outrebounding the Nuggets 50 to 30, and shooting 51.9 percent to Denver’s 40.2.
Nicolas Batum played a salient role in the Blazers’ defensive success, blocking four shots and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes. That said, the Frenchman struggled offensively, scoring six points on 1 of 6 from the field. He did, however, miss a dunk and a lay-up by a fraction of an inch.
“If I just made two more shots, I’d have 10 points, six rebounds and four blocks,” Batum said. “But I know I can do so many things outside of scoring.”
Ty Lawson led the Nuggets (2-1) with 25 points and eight steals. Former Blazer Andre Miller, who received a standing ovation from the Rose Garden crowd upon checking in, scored 13 points and handed out eight assists. Former Blazer Rudy Fernandez, who received boos all night, scored seven points on 2 of 8 shooting.