“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Nelson Mandela was not talking about the Denver Nuggets when he delivered this powerful quote, but it seems like a mantra that they have been living by in this postseason run.
Denver is a team that will not die.
The Nuggets became just the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit when they came back against the Utah Jazz in their first round victory and on September 15th, they became the only team in NBA history to come back from two 3-1 deficits in the same postseason.
The Nuggets collective backs were against the ropes to a title-contending Los Angeles Clippers team who entered the season as the odds-on favorite to win it all.
Denver still believed despite all odds being against them. They fought with everything they had and responded with three-straight wins to advance to the Western Conference Finals after moving to 6-0 in elimination games this year.
For the first time in 11 years, the Nuggets advance to the Western Conference Finals after blowing out the Clippers in Game 7 by a score of 104-89 and with that, I give you the good, bad and awesome.
Good – Solid opening frame
One of the negatives aspects of the Nuggets in their last two games is the way that they have started out.
Denver has gotten off to dreadful starts and ended up on the wrong end of big runs which has forced them to have to dig deep late in games.
Attribute it to jitters, youth, or the Clippers coming out as the more physical team, Denver has not been able to get into a rhythm in the opening frame and it has resulted in them fighting back from being down double digits on numerous occasions.
But, in the biggest game of the season, Denver came out with a sense of urgency and it ended up being the most significant difference in the game.
Denver made it a point early to get the ball in the hands of their best player — Nikola Jokic — and he led the Nuggets in every way.
Instead of a sizeable lead that the Nuggets had to dig into heading into the second frame, it was deadlocked at 24-24, which made it a whole new ball game.
Getting 𝒻𝒶𝓃𝒸𝓎 with it! pic.twitter.com/MMsQqyPKaJ
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 16, 2020
The All-Star big man had eight points, six rebounds, and four assists in the opening quarter and picked up right where he left off after Game 6. It inspired his fellow franchise player Jamal Murray to take over in the game.
The Clippers did everything that they could to give Jokic and Murray different looks, but both deciphered what was going on defensively and stuck to the game plan.
Denver ran the Clippers off of the three-point line, were aggressive on the boards, and limited both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George offensively.
In the second quarter, Denver shifted over to Murray to carry the offense and he erupted. Murray finished with 20 of his 40 points in the second frame alone, and the rhythm that the team built from the opening tip paid dividends later in the game.
Denver’s start ended up being the difference in the game.
Bad – First half shooting
While the Nuggets were not in a huge hole, they did find themselves down in the first half, and the only reason for that was their three-point shooting.
Denver got off to an excellent start to the game on the defensive end of the floor as they limited the Clippers’ looks and found ways to score inside, but an inside and out attack could have gone a long way for Denver.
Denver’s offense was flowing in the opening half around the rim, but not so much from beyond the arc.
The Clippers went on a run in the second frame and had it not been for Murray setting the Clippers defense on fire, the Nuggets would have been down big again, and it could have gone in the opposite direction.
It was not that the Clippers defense that was taking away shots or the fact that Denver was getting bad looks. Denver just could not hit any shots regardless of how open they were. Jokic did a great job of setting teammates up for open looks, but nothing could fall as Denver went 5-20 from beyond the arc in the opening half. Murray erupted for 20 of his 40 points in the second quarter alone and went into the half with three 3-pointers to his name, but other than that, nobody else could hit.
Los Angeles dared the Nuggets to make shots, and early on, they could not capitalize on the many opportunities.
Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap combined for 0-5 in the opening half, Gary Harris went 1-5, and Michael Porter Jr. missed his only shot that he took in the first half which allowed the Clippers packing the paint.
Grant then came out and hit two 3-pointers to open up the second half. Millsap also knocked down a couple of his own. Los Angeles did not know how to respond to that, and you could see the momentum start to shift and the floodgates open.
The Clippers then had to adjust on defense and the runs started to come for the Nuggets as Murray continued to dominate. Jokic was a paint beast that controlled the boards, and the energy shifted in the Nuggets favor.
When Denver is playing team ball with their superstars performing like superstars with their shots also falling, they become a complete package.
Denver will have to build on those moments if they plan on continuing on their historic journey.
Awesome – Nuggets advance to Western Conference Finals
The Nuggets continue to make history.
Denver moved to 6-0 in elimination games during their time in the bubble, which has never been seen.
But, then again, the bubble itself is something that we have never seen.
Most teams came into the bubble with plenty of issues and questions of their own that needed to be answered before they got back to playing, but none with as many as the Nuggets.
For Denver to even get to the point of fighting for a second Game 7 in the same postseason is a remarkable feat when taking a look at what they have had to endure.
The Nuggets came into the bubble down multiple players for the seeding games due to COVID-19 and that was only the start of their difficulty trying to get everyone in Orlando. They began their scrimmages with a single guard on the active roster — Troy Daniels — which led to presumably the tallest starting lineup ever.
Denver has also not been able to play with their starting unit with injuries to both Gary Harris and Jamal Murray for a majority of the seeding games as well as Will Barton III being inactive his entire stay in Orlando due to his ongoing knee problems.
Still, the Nuggets have persevered.
The Nuggets came into the series against the Clippers drained, and it was shown in Game 1 when they were annihilated from start to finish, but dug deep to respond profoundly as they took Game 2.
Game 3, the Nuggets felt as if all of the chances were there, but they gave the game away and had the opportunity to take a series lead.
That is where the momentum shifted as the Nuggets believed that they indeed had a chance.
Game 4 was a defensive clinic put on by both teams in which Denver came up short, but lessons were learned.
The Nuggets went into Game 5 with their back against the wall and played as loose as they had all series. Denver beat Los Angeles 111-105, which set up for a monumental Game 6.
In Game 6, Jokic dominated and put his bid in as one of the best players in the entire league. The All-Star big man put up 34 points, 14 rebounds, and dished out seven assists, which led to a historic game 7.
Game 7 was a team effort by the Nuggets where it all came together.
Denver played team ball for the entirety of the game and locked on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets were the more aggressive team and executed their gameplan, which caused them to advance.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 16, 2020
The celebrations will be short-lived as the Nuggets have to prepare for the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, but placed their names in the history books with all odds against them.
What a journey.