PORTLAND, Ore. -- After nearly three and a half exhausting hours, CJ McCollum intercepted a desperation inbounds heave from Paul Millsap near half-court to finally put an end to only the second four-overtime game in NBA playoff history.
In a marathon affair that started at 7:46 p.m. local time and ended at 11:13 p.m., the Nuggets and Trail Blazers matched the longest NBA playoff game, with Portland left standing at the end with a 140-137 win over Denver on Friday night at the Moda Center.
Afterward, mentally and physically spent coaches and players from both sides tried to process what they had just experienced as the Blazers barely outlasted the Nuggets to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series.
Denver coach Michael Malone called the game an "instant classic."
"It was almost like, when is this game going to end?" Malone said in the aftermath of what was a grueling loss for his young Nuggets team. "It just kept on going and going and going.
"If I was at home watching this game tonight, I would've been glued to my TV," Malone added. "This was a great basketball game. Wasn't pretty at all times -- but the effort, the competitive spirit from both groups, was outstanding."
Not since Red Auerbach was roaming the sideline in a 1953 East Division semifinal between the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals has there been a four-overtime playoff game played in the NBA. There has never been a five-overtime NBA playoff game.
The numbers from this game were simply staggering. Start with Denver's Nikola Jokic, who played 64 minutes, 58 seconds, the fourth-most minutes in a playoff game.
"Sixty-five minutes," Portland's Maurice Harkless said as he looked at the final stat sheet. "That's crazy. ... [There's] a lot to process, honestly."
Jokic poured in an unforgettable triple-double of 33 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists. But those numbers tell only half the story, as Jokic played almost all the way from halftime through the fourth overtime, going an exhausting 43:58 consecutively until he was subbed out with 2.8 seconds left for defensive purposes at the end of the fourth overtime.
No one has ever seen a player log those kind of minutes since 1953.
"They were talking about I'm not in shape," Jokic said of critics who have judged him off appearance of his body type and fitness. "I'm in really good shape. I don't know what they're talking about. Even when I came here [from Serbia] I was a little bit chubby. There's no difference even now. It's a basketball game. I'm feeling good."
Jokic, who afterward had a plastic bag with two Gatorade bottles and one bottled water ready to take back to his hotel with him, probably will replay the final moments of Game 3 in his head. As brilliant as his night was, he missed the front end of two free throws with a chance to tie the score with 5.6 seconds left in the fourth overtime. Seth Curry then sank two free throws with 2.8 seconds left before McCollum stole Millsap's inbounds pass at half-court to secure the win.
Afterward, Malone said he apologized to his 7-foot All-Star for playing him the most minutes in a playoff game in the shot-clock era.
"I mean, Nikola Jokic played 65 minutes tonight," Malone said. "That's unheard of. That's ridiculous. I can't do that to him, that's too many minutes."
McCollum led all scorers with 41 points, shooting 16-of-39, in 60 minutes. Damian Lillard had 28 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in 58 minutes.
Rodney Hood came off the bench for a cramping Harkless and became the hero for the Blazers in the fourth overtime, scoring seven consecutive points for the Blazers in the last 1:07 of the game to help them turn a 133-131 deficit into a 138-136 lead.
"I have no idea what happened in the first half or the second half or the first three overtimes," Portland coach Terry Stotts said, probably only half-joking. "And Rodney Hood came in and played great. It was a helluva game. I've never been involved in a game like that -- regular season or playoff. But it was an amazing effort by both teams."
The Blazers actually led 77-67 with 2:13 left in the third quarter, but Jokic scored 17 of his points in that quarter, and Will Barton had 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including scoring on a cutting layup off a pass from Jokic with 28.6 seconds left to tie the score at 102 in regulation.
At the end of the first overtime, McCollum hit a 7-foot floater to tie the score at 109 before Jokic missed a 27-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In the second overtime, the score was tied at 118, but neither team could score in the last minute before the game went to a third overtime.
All the while, the sellout crowd of 20,193 was sensing that something special was taking place. Incredibly loud from the opening tip, Blazers fans mostly remained in their seats, running up the stairs only to go to the bathroom or to get food between the overtimes.
"It's just like a heavyweight bout," Stotts said. "Battle of attrition."
"I think everyone is kind of tired mentally, physically," Stotts added. "The game was won and lost so many times by both teams. Every overtime was a roller coaster."
In the third overtime, the Nuggets led 129-125 with 32.2 seconds left, but Lillard scored on a layup, and then Jamal Murray -- who gutted out 55 minutes with thigh and shoulder injuries and had 34 points -- lost the ball out of bounds with 19.2 seconds left. Lillard made the Nuggets pay by scoring on a layup again with 8.4 seconds to go before Murray missed a 3 at the buzzer to send the game to a fourth overtime.
Malone said he told Jokic and his players that they weren't tired, not to even entertain a thought about being exhausted during timeouts.
"Adrenaline kicks in," Murray said. "Especially now, not thinking about my leg, my shoulder, when it's a close game like that. I was just playing."
Afterward, giddy Blazers fans were buzzing on their way out of the arena, and there were pockets of fans who remained in their seats 15-20 minutes after the game, still amazed at what they had witnessed.
In a quiet Nuggets locker room, players got dressed without saying much, and several of them downed Gatorade bottles to replenish fluids.
Even the winning side wasn't quite sure how the next 24 hours would feel.
"It takes me back to my AAU days playing with King James," McCollum said of growing up in Ohio. "Playing four, five or six games in a day. Eating McDonald's or Burger King in between. Now it's a little different playing 60."
The Nuggets and Blazers will have to somehow recover to face each other again at 4 p.m. PT on Sunday for Game 4. The Nuggets overcame a 2-1 deficit in the first round and needed seven games to get past the San Antonio Spurs.
Now they have to somehow find a way to steal Game 4 in Portland or return to Denver down 3-1.
"I don't know if it was as much elation as it was relief," Stotts said of what it felt like to win. "But I'll take either one."