DENVER -- Backed up against elimination following a disappointing Game 5 where the Denver Nuggets led by as many as 31 points, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said he was still waiting for his team to play its best game.
"We don't feel like we've played our best basketball yet, and with our backs against the wall, we don't really have a choice," Lillard said. "So our mindset is just to get the next one, take care of home, and make it back here. So that's what it is."
Lillard had a similar viewpoint at the Blazers' shootaround Tuesday morning when talking about why he has confidence to win another game in Denver.
"Knowing that we've won here once and also knowing that we haven't played our best yet," Lillard said. "We haven't played a really good game in our opinion. It would be great to have that happen tonight."
Well, it didn't.
The Nuggets housed the Blazers 124-98 in an atypical game for the series. Entering Game 5, the cumulative score in the series was separated by two points. The Nuggets set an early tone, and with Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic remaining matchup issues on the interior, and the Blazers' top scorers not keeping pace, the game got away from Portland.
"They played as good as they can play and we played as worse a game as we could play," Lillard said.
Most everything kind of went wrong for the Blazers, starting with hitting 36.7 percent from the field, to missing 14 free throws, to getting crushed on the glass 62-44, to noticeably struggling with defensive coverages throughout the game.
"This was our worst basketball the last six weeks," Enes Kanter said.
Lillard's calm, focused demeanor is a driving force for the Blazers and he wasn't reactionary following the deflating performance in Game 5.
"Whether you lose by one or you lose by 25, it's one game," Lillard said. "We're going back home to try and force a Game 7 and just make it back here."
Lillard showed a bit more of an aggressive scoring mindset early, taking a couple of deep 3-pointers off the dribble, something the Nuggets have worked to take away in the series. He finished with 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting and, along with CJ McCollum (12 points on 5-of-16 shooting), sat the entire fourth quarter.
After winning the quadruple-overtime marathon in Game 3, the Blazers dropped a tight Game 4 and appeared to carry some of the regret Tuesday of not taking advantage of an exhausted Nuggets team.
"I don't think anybody in here feels like we can't beat them," forward Maurice Harkless said. "I know what we're capable of. We've been in tough situations before and we've figured out a way to make stuff happen."
Game 6 is Thursday in Portland and, if the Blazers can win, Game 7 would be in Denver on Sunday.
"We've got two must-wins," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "Somebody was gonna have a must-win after tonight, and it's us. So we've got two must-wins ahead of us."