Denver Nuggets 104, Los Angeles Clippers 89: Three takeaways

NEVER. EVER. COUNT. DENVER. OUT.  It’s becoming the recurring theme of the 2020 NBA Playoffs and the Nuggets secured their place in league history after a stunning and almost unbelievable 104-89 Game 7 win over the Clippers.  Denver became the first team in NBA history to ever secure two back-to-back series wins after falling into a 3-1 hole. It speaks to a team that is filled with youthful exuberance, fearlessness and is peaking at the right time.  Jamal Murray had an incredible game in the final contest of the Western Conference semifinals, pouring in 40 points, five assists and four boards on 57.1 percent shooting. Nikola Jokić continued his dominance of the Clippers with an all-around masterclass in Game 7, putting up 16 points, a career-high 22 rebounds and 13 dimes. Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The Nuggets will now be playing in their first Conference Finals since 2009 when they face the Lakers on Friday.

"So proud [of this team]," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. "All of the guys committed, they never got down [and] believed in each other, believing in themselves in light of all the noise outside of this series that we had no chance." 

Here are the takeaways: Murray’s unforgettable second quarter There’s no other way to describe Murray’s second quarter but unconscious. The Nuggets lead guard put up an incredible 20 points in second quarter, helping his team rally back from a 12-point deficit to trail by just two entering the break. Murray shot 9 of 12, including 2 of 4 from downtown. More impressively, the 23-year-old did most of his damage inside of the paint, taking on every defender throw his way and hitting floaters at will. As good as Murray was in the second quarter, he didn’t let up for the rest of the game.  He was effective on defense, helping on the perimeter and helping the Nuggets hold the Clippers to just 37.8 percent shooting. And yes, the scoring continued. Murray would score 15 points in the final 24 minutes of the contest, including hitting another three from downtown.

"How many times have we seen it? Our seasons on the line, [we] need somebody to make a big play, and Jamal Murray steps up," Malone said. 

"The hard work is paying off," Murray added. "Everyone counts us out and it's just fun to silence everyone, we love it. That's what makes it so special, when you go there with no pressure and just play for each other. It shows in our play, shows in our energy, how we talk and celebrated. How we react and take action and this is another series where we got that done."  All-around brilliance  Jokić hit only five shots, but yet he completely dominated the Clippers as he relied on his playmaking and rebounds to dissect Los Angeles. The Nuggets outrebounded the Clippers 53-37 and their superstar center played a significant part.  Jokić was effective in reading the defense and allowing the game to come to him and find mismatches. He took only eight shots through the first three quarters of the game and became the first player in NBA history to notch a triple-double through three quarters in the playoffs. The center would notch his 11th assist in that quarter as well.  When the fourth quarter came around, Jokić became more aggressive – taking five shots. Although he would hit only one, he remained engaged in defense and helped the Nuggets secure the 15-point win. 

Airtight defense  The Clippers shot 37.8 percent from three and a shocking 25.7 percent from downtown. Here are some startling numbers that show just how effective the Nuggets were on defense:  Kawhi Leonard: 14 points, 6 of 22 shootingPaul George: 10 points, 4 of 17 shooting Marcus Morris Sr.: 7 points,  2 of 9 shootingLou Williams: 7 points, 3 of 11 shootingIn what would be the deciding 24 minutes of both teams' seasons, the Nuggets held the Clippers to just 33 points in the second half. Even more impressive, the group held the Clippers just 15 points in the fourth. Los Angeles didn’t hit their first field goal in the quarter until the 4:51 mark. It is a remarkable turnaround for Michael Malone and his staff, who saw their group initially struggle in that area when they arrived in the bubble. 

"To hold that team to 89 points is amazing," Jokić said.