DENVER — C. J. McCollum scored 37 points and the Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets, 100-96, on Sunday to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000.
Evan Turner, who scored just 4 points in the first six games of the series, added 14, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The Trail Blazers will again be on the road, facing the two-time-defending N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors beginning Tuesday night.
Nikola Jokic’s desperation 3-point attempt hit the rim, and Turner corralled the rebound and dribbled out the clock, sending the stunned crowd streaming to the exits at Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets had the best record in the league during the regular season but where they lost twice to Portland in the series.
The Nuggets raced to a 39-22 lead, and Game 7 was beginning to look a lot like Game 5, when Denver blew out Portland by 26 points in Denver. But Trail Blazers Coach Terry Stotts called a timeout with 7 minutes 26 seconds left in the second quarter, and his team began chipping away.
“There wasn’t going to be any quit,” Stotts said, adding, “It was just about regrouping.”
The Blazers were behind, 48-39, at halftime and trailed by just a point head into the fourth quarter.
That is when the Nuggets’ hopes of reaching their first Western Conference finals in a decade died with a 7-of-24 shooting performance, including 3 of 10 from Jokic, who tearfully blamed himself in the locker room for the loss.
Nonsense, said his coach, Michael Malone, who added that Jokic proved to the world in these last 14 playoff games that he was the best big man in basketball and that he petered out at the end because the Nuggets had to rely so heavily on their 7-foot All-Star.
It was a devastating end to Denver’s season after the Nuggets ended a six-year playoff drought and earned the second seed in the Western Conference.
“I’m not going to allow Game 7 loss to take away from a magical year,” Malone said, “and it doesn’t feel that way right now but when I reflect, and when our players reflect, on what we were able to accomplish — hell of a year, couldn’t ask for anything more from our guys.”
McCollum’s big game helped make up for a lackluster one by Damian Lillard, who made just 3 of 17 shots and scored 13 points. He did make two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first one gave Portland an 81-76 lead. The second, off Lillard’s steal of Jokic’s outlet pass, made it 92-85.
Jokic led Denver with 29 points but missed 15 shots. Jamal Murray had 14 points but was 4 of 18 from the field.
The Nuggets were 2 of 19 from beyond the arc and missed 11 free throws. Portland was 4 of 26 on 3-point attempts and 20 of 24 on free throws.
The Nuggets raced to a 17-point lead in the first half and took a 48-39 halftime lead after throttling Lillard, who made just one of nine shots and missed all four of his 3-point tries after scoring 32 points in Portland’s Game 6 victory.
Rodney Hood, whom Malone said he was most worried about heading into Game 7, injured his left knee in the third quarter and left the game. Hood was cleanly screened by Torrey Craig when none of his teammates warned him and crumpled at midcourt while Craig broke free for the basket that gave Denver a 60-55 lead.
Before the game, Malone said that while Lillard is the superstar and McCollum an emerging All-Star, Hood concerned him the most after scoring 7 points in the fourth overtime of Game 3 and 25 off the bench in Game 5, both Portland victories.