Coming up with the right words to describe the fight of the Denver Nuggets could be difficult, though, head coach Michael Malone gave it his best shot.
"We're a resilient group, we're a tough group and we're like the Statue of Liberty, man," Malone said. "We take everybody."
The Nuggets needed every bit of that resiliance in Game 3, fighting off a tenacious Portland squad on the road to steal a 2-1 advantage in the first round series.
Missing star guard Jamal Murray, it was a contribution from Austin Rivers that sparks the win, with the 28-year-old guard scoring 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. The performance is even more remarkable when you consider he only signed with the franchise on April 20, impressing on an initial 10-day contract before being retained for the rest of the season.
"Every time in my life I've had my worst falls, it's been followed by my biggest successes."- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 28, 2021
Hear from @AustinRivers25 following tonight's W!#MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/Pl4MaEtOaS
"Guy was sitting at home for two and a half months waiting for his phone to ring. And it wasn't ringing. Austin Rivers is a good player," Malone said.
'Good' maybe putting it lightly after this performance, with his four made triples in the fourth quarter holding off a barrage from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum that threatened to take the game from their grip.
"They just wouldn't go away, they kept hitting shots," Rivers said in a postgame interview. "Give them credit, Damian is a special player, the shots that he makes, the degree of difficulty that he is able to make shots consistently is difficult to guard."
Initially waived by the New York Knicks, Rivers faced an uncertain future in the league, off the court for two months with the playoffs approaching.
"You got to trust yourself. Two months ago I was sitting on the couch and I kept asking God 'what's going on'. He works in mysterious ways and every time in my life I've had my worst falls, it's been followed by my biggest successes. Everything happens for a reason, I'm glad to be here in Denver, I'm so thankful."
16 points in the fourth.- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 28, 2021
Austin Rivers, playoff hero. #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/rJCa1bYIuw
Along with Rivers, the Nuggets got a typically dominant performance from MVP favourite Nikola Jokic, with the big man pouring in 36 points to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists.
"He's incredible. He's always there to save the day, everytime we need a big play we go to him," Rivers explained. "He's the MVP, he's unstoppable out here, there's nobody that can guard him on the NBA. With him on the floor we always feel like we are a chance to beat anyone."
The typically understated Jokic declined praising his own game, instead referencing the fight his head coach had brought up minutes earlier.
"Fighting is something we develop as a Nuggets organization. We're gonna get on your nerves."
Postgame, a disappointed Lillard lamented the foul disparity in the game, that saw the Nuggets attempt 27 free-throws to the Blazers 13.
"I felt like everything we did was a foul. Maybe some of them were fouls, but every damn thing we did, the whistle was being blown." Lillard said. "It was a lot of things we could have done differently. We can't make no excuses and blame it on that."
"I'm not saying that's the reason we lost, I'm saying when they shoot that well and we fight and claw back into the game and everything we do is a foul, it's tough."
"I feel good about the way we're playing. We limit a few three-pointers and come up with a few more makes, maybe it's a different story."
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