In Game 7 of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Denver Nuggets’ magical season finally came to an end as they fell 100-96 to the Portland Trail Blazers and set up for a very long summer for the Nuggets.
Here is the good, bad and ugly after a rollercoaster of a season that ended in Game 7 at the Pepsi Center.
Good – Jokic’s playoff debut
Heading into the playoffs, there were questions about Denver’s youth and inexperience. The Nuggets have a young roster that had largely never been to the playoffs.
Denver put those doubts to rest as they beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games and nearly beating a very talented Portland team. The biggest reason for that was their start player, Nikola Jokic.
All season long Jokic was remarkable. He was voted into his first All-Star game, took down three Western Conference Player of the Week awards and will most likely be on the All-NBA first or second team player, but one of the biggest questions heading into the postseason was if Jokic had what it took to lead the Nuggets.
Jokic answered those questions by putting together one of the most impressive playoff debuts in NBA history and Saturday’s Game 7 was no different.
In Saturday’s loss Jokic was brilliant yet again. He was Denver’s highest scorer as he finished with 29 points and had 13 rebounds to go along with it. He also recorded four blocks in the game but placed blame on himself at the end.
“They look to me as a leader,” Jokic said in his post-game interview. “They look to me as their best player. I missed the free throw in the four-overtime game. I feel responsible because I missed a lot of shots.”
Jokic is blossomed in front of our eyes. He recorded four triple-doubles in this playoff run, had a playoff career-high of 43 points and responded to every single critic by averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists a game throughout the playoffs. He then took blame for it as if he was not spectacular in this run.
Those are the makings of a legend. Jokic leader in every single sense and he undoubtedly put his name in as one of the best players in the league. What Denver has is something special. They have a superstar and, as much as it stings right now, it will only make Denver better – a scary sight for everyone else in the league.
Bad – Murray and Millsap struggle
The Nuggets starters had been great for Denver all series long with most of Denver’s issues in this series stemming from the bench unit. But in Game 7, things turned around as Denver’s starters picked the wrong time to have their worst games.
The two players in particular who struggled were Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap.
Murray could not turn his night around and it was a big reason that the Nuggets fell. He could not find a rhythm as he finished with 17 points on the night but nine of those points came from the free throw line. Murray could not get shots to fall as he went 4-18 from the field, did not hit a single 3-pointer in the game (0-4 from beyond the arc) and he also struggled mightily trying to find any kind of consistency on either end of the court.
“I didn’t have the game I was supposed to have,” Murray said following the Nuggets Game 7 loss. “Even when Dame (Damian Lillard) wasn’t having the game he was supposed to have, that’s when we’ve got to take advantage and we didn’t tonight.”
Murray was not the only Nuggets starter who had a disappointing night. Millsap also was a shell of himself. The $30 million man went 3-of-13 from the field for 10 points while also fouling out. He missed both 3-pointers he took in the game, could not score inside as he had been doing all series long. His substandard night led to Denver losing the game.
It is nearly impossible to win such a meaningful game with your second and third best players having such a bad game, especially with the entire season on the line.
Ugly – Season comes to an end
In a roller coaster of a game, the Nuggets went into the halftime intermission with a nine-point lead after leading by as many as 17 points. Their defense played well, the bench finally showed up and Denver’s defense limited Lillard to only seven points at the half. Still, the Nuggets still lost the game.
Plenty of things went wrong for the Nuggets in Game 7.
Denver won the first quarter convincingly, but then were outscored in all three remaining quarters, lost the rebounding battle, and did not get great games from their best players, but what stood out most was how badly Denver shot the ball.
Denver’s shooting woes caught up to the Nuggets as they only shot 37% from the field including an abysmal 2-19 from beyond the arc in the game while also missing 11 free throws.
But with as tough of a loss as it was for the Nuggets, there are plenty of things to look forward to. Denver has to be proud of the season that they had and, while that loss hurts, they have to use this year as a motivational tool.
“I will end it with this,” Malone said after Denver’s loss when addressing what Game 7 will mean to Denver moving forward. “Game 82 in Minnesota, we lose in overtime with a chance to go to the playoffs. That was a rallying cry. That was a motivating loss. All summer long, minicamps, summer league, training camp, preseason, regular season, first round, second round it was a motivating force. Tonight’s loss is going to motivate us.”
Denver accomplished plenty this year and overachieved even their own expectations. Each season with Malone at the helm, there has been progress made. Denver’s young core is still intact with reinforcements on the way. The Nuggets will be a year older and a year wiser.
One thing that is for certain with this Denver team is that the future is bright in a way that it has not been in a very long time.
The Nuggets will be back.