DENVER | Nose bloodied, Torrey Craig returned wearing a clear mask.
Knocked down later, his Denver Nuggets teammates rushed to his defense.
There’s no masking the appreciation the Nuggets have for their defensive specialist. Bloodied and bruised, Craig contributed seven points in a 97-90 loss to Portland on Wednesday night as the Trail Blazers tied the Western Conference semifinal series at a game apiece.
“He fights. He’s a fighter,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “Hate to see something like that happen, but for him to come back and be inspiring like he did, it was unbelievable.”
Craig was going for a rebound early in the second quarter when he appeared to bounce off Blazers forward Zach Collins and fall into the leg of Denver teammate Monte Morris. Craig remained down on the court for several moments as trainers came out to treat him. There was blood on the court when he left the floor.
Craig was taken to the locker room with a towel covering his face. The Nuggets said he had a nasal contusion.
But he returned late in the third with the Nuggets needing some energy, wearing plugs in his nostrils to control the bleeding and a clear mask he had custom-fitted from a previous broken nose. Craig provided a spark by grabbing a rebound and later hitting a 3-pointer.
“Most guys wouldn’t even come back into the game after that,” said Gary Harris, whose team heads to Portland for Game 3 on Friday. “He took some hard hits and kept playing for us. He’s huge for this team.”
What irked the Nuggets was an incident that transpired with just under a minute left in the fourth quarter. After a free throw, Enes Kanter bumped into Craig, knocking him to the ground. Jamal Murray took exception to Kanter staring down the fallen Craig and a minor scuffle ensued near midcourt. Teammates raced to break them up, with Kanter and Murray drawing technicals.
Kanter said he was pushed by Nikola Jokic and that it was just an accident.
“Jokic literally pushed me into his teammate. I hit him and turned around and he was on the ground,” Kanter explained. “Then they started getting into my face. I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything. He pushed me into you.'”
Accident or not, Millsap didn’t appreciate it.
“We don’t care,” Millsap said. “Shouldn’t hit our guy anyway.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone respected Craig’s toughness.
“I told him, ‘If you can’t go, you don’t have to be Willis Reed for us,'” Malone said, alluding to the New York standout who hobbled onto the floor in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to help the Knicks win. “What I love about him is that kid is not going to allow me to keep him off the court.”