Jeff Zillgitt USA TODAY
Published 4:05 AM EDT Sep 16, 2020
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Six consecutive elimination games and six consecutive victories for the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 NBA playoffs.
The Nuggets’ remarkable postseason run continues against the odds following a 104-89 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday.
Denver center Nikola Jokic was sensational with a triple-double masterpiece: 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists, three blocks and two steals. Jokic is now 3-1 in Game 7s with two triple-doubles.
“He dominated the game in a lot of ways,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
Jamal Murray had 40 points, Gary Harris and Jerami Grant each had 14 points, and Denver proved to be the harder working, more disciplined and better team.
“Our goal was never to get to a Game 7,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Our goal when we started this whole season was to win a championship, and as outrageous as that may sound for people outside of our group, we never lost sight of that.”
Denver trailed the Clippers 61-54 with 10:50 left in the third quarter. When Murray dropped in a 3-pointer with 8:48 left in the fourth quarter, Denver had an 89-75 lead. Jokic had just two points but dominated with nine rebounds and six assists during that stretch.
In the final three games of the series, the Nuggets erased double-digit deficits, including a 19-point margin in the second half of Game 6.
In the second half of the final three games, the Nuggets averaged 60.3 points and shot 57% from the field and 53.3% on 3-pointers. The Clippers: 39 points, 30.2% from the field and 24.6% on 3-pointers.
“We are just not accepting that somebody’s better than us,” Jokic said.
Jerami Grant’s dunk with 2:10 left in the game put Denver ahead 100-80. The Nuggets destroyed the Clippers in the second half, outscoring them 50-33.
This is not how the Clippers expected their season to end with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But the two stars went a combined 10-for-38 shooting, including 4-for-18 on 3-pointers. Leonard had just 14 points, George just 10. Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers with 20 points.
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Denver advances to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, and it will play the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is Friday.
To get there, the Nuggets accomplished the improbable. For the second consecutive series, they came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series – first against Utah in the opening round and now against the Clippers.
“I think we saw it in Game 3,” Murray said. “When we dropped that game, it was self-inflicted. I think they realized how good we were.”
Denver is the first team to eliminate a 3-1 deficit and win the series twice in the same postseason. It had happened just 11 times in NBA history entering these playoffs.
It was Malone’s 49th birthday on Tuesday. Jokic joked that he had the perfect gift for his coach.
“Coach, I’m going to get you a great present,” Jokic said. “I’m either going to get you home or get you to the Western Conference finals.”
Malone will take the conference finals as a gift.
After the Nuggets lost Game 1 to the Clippers, TNT’s Charles Barkley guaranteed the Clippers would sweep Denver.
“All the guys committed, never got down, believed in each other,” Malone said. “In light of all the noise outside of this series that we had no chance, people guaranteeing it, we found a way to beat a really good team three times. I run out of things to say. … We have a special group.”
Murray listed people who didn’t give the Nuggets a chance. “You’ve got Shaq (O’Neal), you’ve got Charles, you’ve got Zach Lowe, Stephen A. (Smith), all y’all, better start giving this team some (expletive) respect because we put in the work,” Murray said.
Published 4:05 AM EDT Sep 16, 2020