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Trail Blazers rally to stun Nuggets, reach NBA Western Conference finals


By Agence France-Presse

The Portland Trail Blazers rallied on the back of CJ McCollum’s 37 points to stun the Nuggets 100-96 in Denver and book a Western Conference finals date with NBA champions Golden State.

With Portland star Damian Lillard struggling to get shots to fall, Denver exploded out of the gates, seizing a 29-17 first-quarter lead that they stretched to as many as 17 in the second period.

McCollum kept the Blazers in it, his driving basket giving them their first lead of the game, 71-70 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Nuggets had reduced a seven-point deficit to one when McCollum drained a step-back jumper with 12.4 seconds left to stretch Portland’s lead to 98-95.

Evan Turner, who scored just four points in the first six games of the series, scored 10 of his 14 in the fourth quarter for Portland.

After Nikola Jokic’s last-gasp three-point attempt hit the rim Turner grabbed the rebound and the clock ran down.

Despite the third-quarter departure of Rodney Hood with a hyperextended knee, Portland booked their first trip to the conference finals since 2000.

They’ll open their best-of-seven series against the Warriors on Tuesday with a place in the NBA finals on the line.

Despite his shooting woes, Lillard contributed with 10 rebounds and eight assists to go with his 13 points. He connected on just three of 17 shots from the floor — but that included two three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“I think for us the biggest thing was just to take it one possession at a time,” McCollum said. “We came out a little tight defensively … Our biggest thing was just one stop at a time, one possession at a time.”

Portland coach Terry Stotts called the victory “arguably the biggest win we’ve had in the franchise in a long time.

“To be a part of it and the way we did, I’m thrilled for our guys tonight,” he said.

Jokic led Denver with 29 points. Jamal Murray had 14 points on four-of-18 shooting.

But Denver coach Michael Malone said Jokic blamed himself for the Nuggets’ inability to hang on.

“For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring,” Malone said. “He was upset because he thinks he didn’t do enough for us to win tonight.”