Nikola Jokic’s game-winning Game 7 shot seals NBA history as Nuggets overcome Jazz, 3-1 deficit – The Denver Post
For six games of this playoff series the offenses flowed, searing nightmares into the minds of the opposing coaches. And then a gripping, white-knuckle, defensive slugfest took hold in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Game 7 between the Nuggets and the Jazz.
Somehow, the Nuggets survived, 80-78, able to scrape together just enough from its disjointed offense to climb all the way out of 3-1 hole and advance to the Western Conference semifinals where the Los Angeles Clippers await. Game 1 is Thursday.
His back to the basket, Nikola Jokic drained the game-winning bucket in Rudy Gobert’s grill with 27 seconds left before Gary Harris authored a series-defining defensive stop. Harris forced a turnover on Jazz superstar Donovan Mitchell, the Nuggets avoided disaster after blowing a layup, and the Jazz had one last shot. Mike Conley’s last-second 3-pointer swerved out of the rim.
What was once a 19-point Nuggets lead had melted away, as nerves and fatigue kicked in.
Despite just 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets became the 12th team in NBA history to storm back from a 3-1 series deficit and advance. It’s the first time in Nuggets history, too, after two previous attempts. The series win also marks the first time the Nuggets have advanced to the second round in consecutive years since the 1984-’86 seasons.
Gobert’s devastating work on the glass kept Utah close, as the Jazz threatened to seize momentum nearly the entire fourth quarter. But Jokic’s 30 points and 14 rebounds were ultimately the difference.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, unwilling to fold, was on a mission in the third quarter. His breakneck drives and devilish finishes dragged the Jazz to within 65-60 heading into the fourth quarter. Mitchell had 13 points in the third period, ripping and busting his way through the teeth of Denver’s defense. Were it not for a few massive makes from Jokic, including a clutch 3-pointer from the corner, Denver would’ve had almost no margin for error heading into the last quarter. Outside of Jokic, their free-flowing offense had become stagnant.
The Nuggets had gone through the ringer just to get to Tuesday’s winner-take-all Game 7. After winning Game 5 thanks to one of Murray’s masterpieces, the NBA took a three-day hiatus to figure out how best to utilize their platform in the fight for racial equality. And while the league came back with actionable results, there was also a chance the Nuggets had lost some of their momentum.
“So your emotions are all over the place,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “So coming back from a 3-1 deficit is hard enough, but to do it in a setting where you’re away from your family for 50-plus days, on top of, ‘Are we playing or are we not playing?’ that uncertainty and how that messes with your emotions.”
It took extraordinary circumstances, and mental fortitude, just to extend their stay in Orlando.
After staving off two elimination games in dramatic fashion, Malone took comfort in the energy he felt his group had leading into Tuesday night’s game.
“Our guys are loose, they’re joking,” he said. “And maybe that speaks to the fact that we had two Game 7s just last year, against both San Antonio and Portland, and maybe it also speaks to the fact that we have had two straight elimination games, where it was win or go home.”
Whatever the reason, the Nuggets looked far more composed than the Jazz early on. But after Mitchell’s historic series, it would’ve been foolish to think they’d go down with little resistance.
“I think that comfort of being there before helps, but when that jump ball goes up, we can’t just keep on saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before,’” he added, imploring his team to be the aggressor. “You have to go out and do it. You have to go out and take it.”
Beginning with their defense, the Nuggets played a fantastic first half of basketball Tuesday night. Their rotations were crisp, and multiple defenders hounded Mitchell into an underwhelming half. Most glaring, the Nuggets dominated the glass, owning an astounding 27-14 advantage on the boards.
Harris made a significant impact off the bench, adding several impressive defensive sequences and nailing his first 3-pointer of the bubble.
Though their offense was sound, led by Jokic, Murray and Porter, it was their stout defense that built a convincing 50-36 halftime lead.