Nuggets defy odds, advance to Western Conference finals

Leo Friedman

Wednesday night the Denver Nuggets became the first team in National Basketball Association history to come back from two consecutive 3-1 series deficits, beating the Los Angeles Clippers in the semi-finals 104-89 and advancing to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nuggets are making their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2009 largely due to a huge performance from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić. In game 7, Murray scored 40 points and Jokić had achieved a triple-double with almost 20 rebounds by the end of the third quarter. Performances like these from this Nuggets dynamic duo are what have allowed Denver to escape both 3-1 leads in the 2020 playoffs.

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“It’s fun to silence everybody,” Murray said.

He scored 25 points in the first half, according to ESPN.

Denver started off the series with a disappointing blowout, losing 120-97. Jokić led the team in scoring with 15 points, signaling the struggles of the entire offense. The Clippers shot a whopping 57% from the field, and at that point, the Clippers already looked ready to take the series.

”That is a tough, resilient group of you-know-whats. I love our team. I love our team. I love our toughness.” -Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets head coach

The Nuggets had just come off another game 7, and head coach Michael Malone definitely believed that to be a contributing factor in the players’ poor performances. 

After the Nuggets went on to achieve a comfortable 110-101 victory in game 2, with Jokić and Murray scoring 26 and 27 respectively, they went on to lose multiple games and were right back where they were in the first series.

The Clippers’ own dynamic duo, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, dominated in game 3. George scored 32 points and Leonard chipped in with 23 points, as well as 14 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks. The Nuggets lost 113 to 107; not a huge deficit, but the Clippers’ defense shut down the Nuggets in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets lost again two days later in game 4, where they found themselves in a familiar 3-1 series deficit.

Clippers star Leonard scored 30 points and added 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks in game 4. The Clippers had led by as much as 18 in the game and were firing on both offensive and defensive cylinders. George excelled on defense, keeping usually high-scoring Murray to 18 points and 6 for 15 shooting from the field.

Even though The Clippers were in a favorable series lead, they weren’t celebrating yet, and the attitude was still serious after the game.

“Zero reaction,” Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers said. ”We haven’t done anything yet.”

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The Clippers still needed to win one game, and apparently the Nuggets were not about to let that happen.

Defying all odds and doing something no NBA team has ever done since the league began in 1946, Denver went on to win games 5, 6 and 7 to best The Clippers and advance out of their second 3-1 series deficit in a row.

The dynamic duo of Jokić and Murray returned to full form in the last three games, but additional players like Paul Millsap helped propel the Nuggets to win the series. In game 5, Millsap scored 14 points in the third quarter, helping them overcome being down by 12 points, with Denver beating Los Angeles 111-105. Murray and Jokic also scored 26 and 22 respectively.

Denver outperformed Los Angeles even more in game 6, beating them 111 to 98. While George scored 33 and Leonard helped out with an additional 25, it wasn’t enough. Both of them shot under 50% from the field, while Murray and Jokić both shot over 50%, Jokić nearly shooting 60%.

At this point after game 6, it was clear the Nuggets were looking to do something special. They did just that.

”I’m running out of adjectives, superlatives, whatever you want to call it to speak on our team,” Malone said, according to CBS Sports. “That is a tough, resilient group of you-know-whats. I love our team. I love our team. I love our toughness.”

After making history, Denver will now go on to play the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets, while clearly the underdog, are no stranger to unprecedented playoff wins.

Those guys stepped up on the biggest moment,” Malone said, according to ESPN. “You find out a lot about people in these moments. Man, did we pass the character test or what?”

Leo Friedman can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LeoFriedman13