The two best words in all of sports are ‘Game 7’.
The Denver Nuggets went up against the Utah Jazz for all of the marbles on Tuesday evening. With all eyes on them at Walt Disney World in a Game 7, the Nuggets persevered.
Denver headed into the contest with history not on their side as only 12 teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit in NBA history. It took plenty to get to that point as Denver put together two complete games to get back into the position to advance to the next round.
It took a historic night in Game 6 from Jamal Murray as he became only the fourth player ever to finish with multiple 50-point performances in the same series. Murray had 50 points, five rebounds, and six assists to even the series at 3-3, and the Nuggets would need another huge game from him in Game 7 if they planned on advancing.
In a Game 7 that came down to the final shot, the Nuggets pulled off the 80-78 win to move onto the Western Conference semifinals. And with that, I give you the good, bad and awesome.
Good – Denver’s stellar start
There might not have been a better time for Denver’s defense to come alive than in Game 7.
Early on, the Nuggets locked in defensively and it is why they got off to such a hot start which set up the defense for the rest of the game. Denver went into the second quarter with a 26-21 lead.
Denver versus Utah has been a series about adjustments and in the opening frame the Nuggets set the tone and came out as the aggressors. The Nuggets won the rebounding battle as they limited Utah to only one shot, ran shooters off of the three-point line — which has been one of their most significant issues — and also forced the Jazz to have to go inside and work for their baskets.
In the second quarter, Utah was only able to muster up 15 points, which showcased just how locked in the Nuggets were.
On offense, Denver went through Nikola Jokic and Murray early on, but the second unit came in and gave Denver a much-needed bolt of energy to not only sustain the lead, but push it further.
Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Harris were a solid one-two punch with Porter keeping the offense afloat by staying aggressive while Harris putting together contagious defensive sequences.
Porter finished with 10 points and eight rebounds at the half and took advantage of his matchup.
AAAAAAANNNNNND-1 💪 pic.twitter.com/iC6nivvpfC
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 2, 2020
While there were small rookie mistakes here and there, he gave reliable and valuable minutes that will only make him better in the long run.
Harris had a block early on and smart-reads that helped bring the defensive intensity to the Nuggets throughout the night.
The Nuggets went into the halftime intermission with a 50-36 lead showing they are a tough team to beat when they get off to hot starts as they did in Tuesday’s game.
Bad – Unable to close the door
Denver was up by as many as 19 points in the game and looked as if they were going to turn on cruise control in the second half, but a push by Utah had the Nuggets backs against the rope late in the game.
Utah came alive in the third quarter as they won the frame 24-15 to get well within striking distance.
The Jazz began the third frame with a 12-0 run, and from there continued to fight to get back in the game, even taking the lead late in the game. The Nuggets offense went missing as Denver was scoreless in the fourth quarter for six-consecutive minutes.
That is where the Jazz made their move.
Denver did a great job of slowing down Donovan Mitchell in the first half as they limited him to seven points, but he, along with Rudy Gobert, came alive late. Gobert put his stamp in the game with stellar defense as he made sure that he protected the paint. He finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds in the game while also coming up with two blocks and altering plenty more. Mitchell came alive and turned the game around completely. Mitchell finished with 22 points in the game and also had nine rebounds.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) September 2, 2020
He did all that he could so that Utah had a chance to win it, and it created what was an incredible final 15 seconds of the game which might have been one of the most entertaining sequences in Game 7 history.
Gary Harris came away with a late-game steal up by two points with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Murray raced the ball up the floor, and instead of walking it out to the perimeter and potentially getting fouled, he chose to pass it up to Torrey Craig, who missed a layup in transition.
Gobert rebounded the ball and got it to Mike Conley.
Conley got as good of a look as anyone could hope for with the entire season on the line, but the ball rolled in and out and with that, the Nuggets came out victorious.
While it is a win that the Nuggets will indeed accept, Denver still is having issues closing the door on opposing teams. The Nuggets have to figure out a way to execute late in games and not only build, but sustain big leads.
The Jazz should not have been in that game after being down by as many as 19 points and that is what Denver has to work on because next, they are up against a title-contending Clippers team that will not find themselves down big too often.
Awesome – Denver advances
Denver looked down and out after Game 4. They were looking at a hole that was so deep that many teams were unable to dig themselves out.
Still, despite being down 3-1 in the series, the Nuggets never flinched.
It did not matter that Denver never found a true rhythm in the seeding games after a long hiatus with multiple starters injured. It did not matter that Mitchell was putting together a historic postseason prior to Game 7 or that Denver had the worst defense since entering the bubble.
All that mattered was the moment, and the Nuggets seized it.
The win did not come easy, and the Nuggets had plenty of times where it looked as if the Jazz were going to pull away with the win — including the final shot of the game — but Denver had a game plan and stuck to it.
They had their best defensive game of the season despite having one of their worst offensive halves of the year. The bench unit came in and played exceptionally well. Oh, and the Nuggets two best players played like their best two players.
Murray was the headliner for most of the series as he came into the game fresh off of his second 50-point performance of the series. He started off strong, but struggled in the second half after he took a knee to the thigh from Joe Ingles, but that did not stop him from making big plays when it mattered most.
Murray challenged Gobert on the defensive end for a potentially game-winning play, hit tough shots late despite it not being a colossal scoring night, and got the team in their sets to allow Jokic to close Utah out.
On that note, Jokic had another stat-stuffing night and carried the Nuggets to victory in this one. The Nuggets had their lowest-scoring game since being in the bubble as they finished with only 80 points on the night, and Jokic had 30 of them to go along with 14 rebounds as well.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 2, 2020
“Quietly Jokic had an outstanding series as well,” head coach Michael Malone said after the game. “That’s what we want and need from our best player.”
The Nuggets’ two best players showed up and carried Denver to an instant classic victory. Denver locked in on both ends of the court and it took a concerted effort defensively to assure the win.
As great as the Nuggets played, they will have to take it up another level as they are up against one of the best teams in the league in less than 48 hours, but for now, they should take a sigh of relief and realize they made history.