The saying goes that NBA playoff series don’t actually begin in earnest until a visiting team steals a game on the opponent’s home court.
By that standard, the Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets series started in earnest when Denver lost game two of the best-of-seven series last week at the Pepsi Center. That robbed the Nuggets of home court advantage, forcing them to have to win at least once in Portland to possibly salvage the series.
Game three was an instant classic, as neither team could seal the deal in a marathon, four-overtime thriller Friday night in Portland. When Portland held on for a 141-137 win, Nuggets fans had to wonder if their team could overcome the loss and bounce back Sunday night for a game four victory to even the series at two games apiece.
The answer, much to my delight, was a resounding “yes.” Despite trailing throughout the first half the Nuggets managed a gritty second half comeback and held on for a heart-stopping win, 116-112. That victory shifted the home court advantage back into Denver’s favor, putting Portland in the uncomfortable position of having to take yet another game at the Pepsi Center to stand a mathematical chance of advancing.
I’ll be honest. I thought the grueling, four-overtime loss might be too devastating psychologically for the Nuggets to withstand. Being the eighth-youngest team to ever participate in the NBA playoffs with an average age of 23 years, and not making the post-season party since 2012, didn’t make Denver an obvious candidate to advance after game three.
But even when nobody outside the Nugget’s locker room gave them a snowball’s chance in hell to advance, they silenced the rowdy Portland crowd and snuck out of the Great Northwest Sunday night with an impressive, yet somewhat improbable victory.
That, sports fans, is why they play the game.
Avalanche, Sharks locked in bitter playoff battle
Entering the NHL playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche, it was difficult to discern which team should be favored. Though the Sharks had what appeared to be distinct advantage in terms of recent playoff appearances and overall postseason experience, Colorado was fresh off a dominating 4-1 series win over the Calgary Flames.
The Sharks looked like the superior team in game one, carving up the less experienced Avalanche with a convincing 5-1 victory in San Jose. Seemingly undaunted, and having lost the first game in the Calgary series as well, the Avalanche responded with a 4-3 road victory in game two. The series began to get chippy in game two, as both teams had to be forcibly removed from the ice at the end of the contest after a bench-clearing brawl ensued. That physical tone has continued to gain momentum throughout the course of the series.
The Sharks returned the favor in game three, April 30, pinning a demoralizing 4-2 defeat on Denver at the Pepsi Center. That contest was followed by a thorough team effort by Colorado in game four, highlighted by an exceptional performance in goal by Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer saved 32 San Jose shots on goal for his first career shutout in playoff competition.
Teammate Nathan MacKinnon punched in the pivotal goal in that contest, extending his streak to eight consecutive playoff games with at least one goal or assist. In Colorado’s last eight games, MacKinnon has logged six goals and seven assists. The game four victory knotted the series at two games apiece.
The Sharks demonstrated yet again why they are recognized as one the NHL’s elite teams in game five, utilizing a smothering defensive effort of their own in a 2-1 win. That victory left the Avalanche in a 3-2 series deficit.
The good news for Avalanche fans is that their team returned to the Pepsi Center for game six Tuesday night, but results of that contest were not yet available by press time. Even if the Avalanche were fortunate enough to win on home ice Tuesday night, the seventh and final game of the series is unfortunately slated to take place Saturday in San Jose.
Winning at home against the Sharks, who obviously smell blood in the water with two chances to close out the series, will be a tall order indeed for Colorado. Winning again in a game seven showdown in San Jose seems a long shot, to say the least.
I personally suspect the mountain will be too high to climb for the Avalanche, but this team’s resilience thus far in the playoffs cannot be questioned. Even so, rolling off two wins to steal the series in seven games seems possible, but unlikely for Colorado.
This Avalanche team, which didn’t even lock down a playoff spot until the final week of the regular season, has admittedly overachieved every step of the way in their 2019 postseason journey.
Let’s hope that trend continues.