With all eyes on the Denver Nuggets and the entire season on the line, Denver went into Game 7 as relaxed and as calm as can be.
Game 6 was a humbling experience for the Nuggets. They had an opportunity to close out the series on the road, but were blown out 120-103 despite Nikola Jokic have arguably the best game of his career. Jokic finished with a career high 43 points and also had 12 rebounds and nine assists, but that still was not enough as the San Antonio Spurs forced a Game 7.
That winner-take-all game took place on Saturday night and was not the offensive onslaught that many NBA fans wanted it to be, but it was intense, loud and fun as the Nuggets were able to put on a defensive showcase and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.
Denver led for the entirety of the game despite the Spurs making it close in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets found a way to hold it together and advance to a matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
With that being said, I give you the good, great and awesome.
Good – Opening quarter sets tone
It was only the second game in the series that the Nuggets won the first quarter, but it was the most important as it set the tone for the rest of the game.
Denver got off to a dream start, especially the way that they played on the defensive end of the floor. Denver’s defense only allowed the Spurs to score 13 points in the opening quarter while limiting San Antonio to 20.8% shooting from the field.
Denver’s defenders made sure that they kept a body on their man, did not let the Spurs get comfortable looks from mid-range and also ran shooters off of the 3-point line as San Antonio went 0-4 from beyond the arc in the opening frame.
Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris played smothering defense and did all of the dirty work for Denver which helped them jump out to an early lead.
Craig and Harris played incredible individual defense as they made things difficult for DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White early on. With additional help from Jokic doing his best against LaMarcus Aldridge and Millsap anchoring the weak-side defense, it made things that much easier for the Nuggets as Denver put together one of their best defensive performances of the season.
Great – Jokic shines again
It may not be talked about much on a national scale, but Jokic had one of the best playoff series ever seen.
There were plenty of questions and doubts heading into the Serbian big man’s first playoff run and he more than delivered.
Jokic responded and silenced those critics by going out and putting up some Hall of Fame level numbers that opened the eyes of many and had made Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich tip his hat after a hard-fought best-of-seven series that came down to the wire.
“I’ve said it like 10 times,” Popovich said when being asked about Jokic’s play all series long. “He’s magnificent. Magnificent. I’ll just leave it at that.”
The first-time All-Star finished his first playoff series by averaging 23.1 points, 9.1 assists and 12.1 rebounds. The last time any player reached those numbers for a full playoff series? Oscar Robertson 56 years ago.
Despite playing with bumps and bruises, Jokic was able to put together another solid outing, but this time it came in the most important game of the season.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 28, 2019
Jokic finished his first Game 7 by putting up a second postseason triple-double. The All-Star center checked off every box as he finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists without committing a turnover.
He scored at ease, got others involved and showed poise as the leader of this Denver unit. Coach Malone was on a high after the game when speaking on his All-Star center.
“Anytime your best player has that kind of poise and leadership, that will definitely help the young guys out,” Malone explained. “When things aren’t going their way and they can look to him and see calmness under pressure and under duress, yeah I think that is a great thing to have and that is how leadership is shown in many different ways. That is why I think that Nikola is a leader for our team.”
Awesome – Moving on to Portland
For the first time in a decade, the Nuggets are going to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Denver has come a long way and will now take the next step in their maturation as a team. They have overcome all odds to get to this point and, now that they are here, they have to continue proving their worth in the postseason.
With the win, the Nuggets will now turn their attention to Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. With former teammate Jusuf Nurkic out for the season and Enes Kanter possibly missing part of the series due to a shoulder injury the Blazers will be thin up front.
Jokic has an opportunity to prove himself yet again on an even bigger stage and with the stakes even higher. Plus, he has a huge advantage considering that it will be Enes Kanter trying to defend him. Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins do not have enough to keep up with a player like Jokic either so he should have his way down low with them as long as he remains aggressive.
C.J. McCollum’s contributions often get overshadowed, but he was remarkable in the first round against the Thunder. He averaged 24.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game in the first round. Lillard is coming off of a signature playoff career performance as he finished the first round averaging 33 points a game and capped it off with a 50-point game that included a game-winning 3-pointer for the ages. Lillard has been phenomenal offensively and will be looking to keep torching defenders throughout the postseason. The Nuggets are next up on that war path.
The Nuggets are up for the challenge and have a great chance at winning another round if they come ready to play. Getting past the Spurs was step one in their maturation process. Now they face a different beast entirely and many will say that Denver cannot do it, but as so many people are starting to realize, they have proved doubters wrong all season.