DENVER — LaMarcus Aldridge had a monster night, so with the game on the line, he was the natural go-to guy.
The Denver Nuggets expected it, so the Portland Trail Blazers threw them a curve. Aldridge got the ball near the foul line with time running out but instead of shooting, he passed it to Robin Lopez. The center calmly hit a layup with 1.3 seconds left to give the Trail Blazers a 105-103 win on Tuesday night.
“Coach made the call,” Aldridge said. “I thought it was a great call. Everybody in the arena thought I would shoot it if I touched it.”
With good reason. The forward had a season-high 39 points and 11 rebounds to lead the way. Guard Damian Lillard had 17 points for the Trail Blazers, who have won 11 of 12 despite trailing for most of the game.
“This is hard to swallow,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “I thought our guys fought the entire game. I felt we controlled the game for the most part and to lose it the way we did at the end, I’ll take the hit.”
Portland trailed by as many as 14 but rallied in the fourth. With the game tied, Aldridge found Lopez underneath and he laid it in over forward J.J. Hickson to give Portland the win.
Lopez, who finished with 11 points, was shocked to hear in the timeout before the play that he was the go-to guy.
“It caught me a little by surprise,” said Lopez. “L.A. made a great pass and I just happened to put it in.”
Forward Danilo Gallinari missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Nuggets.
Guard Ty Lawson scored 24 points and had 13 assists and forward Wilson Chandler had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which has lost seven straight to Portland.
This loss was much different than three weeks ago when the Trail Blazers scored 84 points in the first half and cruised to a 130-113 win.
Still, the closer outcome provided little solace.
“At the end of the day it’s still a loss to them,” said guard Arron Afflalo, who also scored 18 points. “That’s the toughest thing to accept.”
Lillard’s foul trouble contributed to Denver building a 78-64 lead in the third quarter, but he was instrumental in the comeback. The guard was fouled on a 3-pointer and made the free throw to make it 78-74 late in the third.
After two traveling calls on Denver, Portland had a chance to take a lead but Lillard missed a 3-pointer and Chandler converted a three-point play to push the lead to 85-78 heading into the fourth.
The Nuggets stretched the lead to 10 in the fourth before Portland rallied. A 3-pointer by guard Wes Matthews cut it to one and Lillard, playing with five fouls, gave the Trail Blazers a 98-97 lead, their first since early in the game.
The game was back and forth until the final minute. With the game tied at 103, Matthews, who had 15 points, stole the ball from Lawson, setting up the winning possession.
“I probably should have called a timeout during that last possession,” Shaw said. “We didn’t really get anything out of that play.”
Four different Denver defenders couldn’t contain Aldridge in the first half. He had 14 of Portland’s 21 points in the first quarter and finished with 26 on 10-for-17 shooting in the half.
“He had a full game in the first half,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “His stroke was going really well and the fact that we had so many 3s last time and they were doubling him, they wanted to play him straight this time, he carried us with his jump shot and late going to the post. He was good all night.”
The Nuggets employed a balanced attack to take a 56-50 lead at the break. Nine players scored, with Lawson leading the way with 12. His crossover, step-back jumper with 5.3 seconds left in the second quarter gave Denver breathing room at halftime.
NOTES: The NBA fined Nuggets G Arron Afflalo $15,000 for a hard foul on Utah G Alec Burks on Monday night. Afflalo was assessed a Flagrant 2. Denver coach Brian Shaw thinks Afflalo should appeal the fine. “He got punished by being ejected from the game,” Shaw said. … With his first rebound Tuesday, Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge moved past Buck Williams for fourth on the franchise’s list for total rebounds. … Nuggets C JaVale McGee was dressed after not playing the previous four games due to a sore left tibia. … The Blazers won 10 of their first 13 games for the second consecutive season.
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