Count the Denver Nuggets out at your own peril.
Once again, the Nuggets made a dramatic second-half comeback in Game 6 to defeat the LA Clippers and force a Game 7 in their conference semifinals series. LA led by 19 points early in the third quarter and it looked like Denver’s magical playoff run would finally come to an end.
Yet Denver dug deep and simply dominated the rest of the way, eventually outscoring the Clippers 64-35 in the second half. Nikola Jokić led an offensive resurgence for the Nuggets in that stretch, while the defense tightened up and got the Clippers out of their comfort zone.
READ MORE: Game 6 takeaways
The end result was yet another 15+-point comeback for Denver, the third time it has come back from such a deficit when facing elimination in these playoffs. Jamal Murray recovered from a hard hit on a layup attempt to end up with 21 points, five assists and five rebounds on 69.2 percent shooting from the field, while the Nuggets once again got key contributions from the second unit.
For LA, this was another stellar game for Kawhi Leonard (25 points, eight rebounds and five assists) and Paul George (33 points and six rebounds), highlighting the need for other players to step up if the Clippers want to avoid blowing a 3-1 series lead.
No team has ever come back from being down 3-1 in a series twice in the same postseason run, so history could be in the making for the Nuggets on Tuesday.
Here are the key storylines to focus on in Game 7.
Continue to attack the basket
One of the key storylines coming out of LA’s Game 3 victory was Denver’s lack of free throw attempts. In that loss, the Nuggets attempted 10 free throws, something that would have to change if the Nuggets wanted to have any chance to even this series up.
Since that performance, Denver has been more aggressive in looking to attack the basket, which, as expected, has resulted in more trips to the charity stripe. The Nuggets attempted 27 free throws in Game 6, but just as importantly, they had success finishing around the rim and opened the floor up for the offense.
In Sunday’s victory, Denver generated 11 3-point attempts from the corners, the most efficient area from beyond the arc. For a Nuggets team that hovered around league average in the frequency of corner threes attempted during the regular season, driving inside the paint collapsed LA’s defense and Denver’s ball-handlers were able to find the open shooters.
Furthermore, the Nuggets were elite at finishing around the basket in Game 6, shooting 15 of 20 around the rim in the 111-98 victory. Increased floor-spacing (which we’ll discuss in the next storyline) has opened up space for driving lanes and thus has opened up drive-and-kick scenarios for open shooters.
A Nuggets offense that is mixing a blend of post-ups, perimeter actions and downhill attacks to the rim becomes a nearly unstoppable unit, and they will need one more such performance to pull off the incredible series comeback.
Can Jokić deliver one more superstar performance?
One can very easily make the argument that Jokić has been the best player in this series.
After a slow start to the series in Game 1, the Serbian big man has simply taken over, posting four-straight games with 20+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists. His latest performance was a 34-point, 14-rebound double-double, complete with seven assists and four 3-pointers.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Jokić’s performance in the series so far has been his shooting. Despite missing his two attempts from beyond the arc in Game 1, the two-time All-Star has shot 41 percent on 5.7 attempts per game from downtown.
This elite shooting not only makes Jokić nearly unguardable, but it also opens up the floor for Denver’s perimeter players to attack the basket. Ivica Zubac lacks the foot speed to defend Jokić in pick-and-pop situations, while Jokić can shoot over Montrezl Harrell or JaMychal Green when they are manning the center position.
Furthermore, when Jokić is shooting at this level, Denver can and will run some off-ball screens for him to receive catch-and-shoot opportunities. Yes, we’re talking about a seven-foot big man running off of screens for catch-and-shoot looks.
A healthy blend of 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, floaters and his usual diet of post-ups will keep LA’s defense guessing and likely force a variety of double-teams, thus opening up opportunities for cutters and open shooters. One more dominant performance from Jokić may very well lead to a historic Game 7 victory for Denver.
Limiting turnovers and fast break opportunities for LA
Just because the Nuggets have won two consecutive games in this series, it doesn’t mean they are operating at a high level in all facets of the game. Once again, Denver struggled to take care of the ball and limit transition opportunities for LA in Game 6.
On Sunday, 15 turnovers led directly to 17 points for LA, while the Clippers finished with 20 fast break points in the end. Considering that Game 7 might come down to the smallest of margins, valuing each possession and getting back in transition following a turnover or missed shot will be crucial.
Although Denver didn’t get out in transition offensively as much as LA did (the Nuggets finished with 10 fast break points), the Clippers did help Denver’s cause with 16 turnovers of their own, which led to 15 points for the Nuggets.
Denver won the battle inside the paint and from beyond the arc, but that may not always be the case. Therefore, valuing each possession and focusing on transition defense ahead of Game 7 will be important in hopes of making history.
Tuesday’s Game 7 will tip at 7 p.m. MT and will air on ESPN (Radio: KKSE 92.5FM).