"We've just got to suck it up," said Brown. "We're in the dance to die now."
Renewed spirit, the twists of fate and a more normal, smaller lineup prevailed on Sunday when the high-flying Thompson, back at forward where he surely belongs, had 18 points at the half and 27 of his game-high 31 after three quarters. By that time Denver, which had been in command all the way, led 83-77, Walton and Gross were in desperate foul straits and Lucas was wandering through a puzzling malaise on the way to a nine for 23 shooting afternoon. Worse for the Blazers, Twardzik, the spark and soul of the backcourt, suffered a severe ankle sprain in the third period and was taken to the hospital.
With nine minutes to go Denver led by 10, but Gilliam, subbing for Twardzik, brought Portland back. With less than two minutes left, the gap was just five. The pattern seemed familiar (Thompson kept thinking, "What is this? Here we go collapsing again"), except that this time the score was tied at 101 at the buzzer. But now, instead of folding up in a close game—as they had all year, as they had all series, as they just had in the final minutes of regulation—the Nuggets roared out into the overtime. Thompson scored right away. Issel tallied nine points and had two key rebounds (his totals were 23 and 18), Reserve Center Marvin Webster blanketed Lucas with stiff defense, and Denver won 114-105. "Maybe we've got something left," said Brown, facing the prospect of having to meet the Blazers again in Portland the following night. "It will be fun to see what the Nuggets are made of now."