The Denver Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday evening, toppling the Utah Jazz and becoming just the 12th team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 series deficit. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Nuggets, however, as Mike Malone’s team gave up a 19-point lead in the second half and needed to avoid disaster in the form of a potential game-winner as the buzzer sounded.
There is plenty to unpack from a memorable contest and, to that end, here are three takeaways from Game 7.
1. It was a throwback Game 7 in the most unexpected way
Coming into Tuesday evening, this was one of the most offensively potent series in recent memory. Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell headlined the action with monumental scoring displays and, while defensive moments did occur along the way, no one would mistake the first six games for the NBA basketball played in the early 2000’s. In Game 7, though, everything changed.
Neither team even approached one point per possession offensively, as evidenced by the 80-78 final score. Both teams deserve significant credit for defensive execution and effort, with the common theme of Game 7 slogs persisting. Still, this was a level that no one could have expected, with Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic truly stealing the show from their perimeter counterparts.
After a rough first half, Gobert was utterly dominant after halftime, producing 13 points and 17 (!) rebounds while playing all 24 minutes. He keyed a pair of huge runs from the Jazz in the second half, finishing around the rim and denying Denver’s attempts in the paint.
Rudy Gobert is making all the plays down the stretch for the Jazz. That finish.
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) September 2, 2020
Jokic was consistently great in Game 7, finishing with a game-high 30 points and 14 rebounds. Though his offense was steady and efficienct throughout the series, Jokic reached new heights defensively in Game 7 and, with Murray struggling and seemingly hampered by a leg issue down the stretch, the All-NBA center converted the eventual game-winner.
Poignantly, the game ended with a bizarre sequence, as the Nuggets controversially decided to attack the rim after a Mitchell turnover. Denver missed in transition, setting the stage for Mike Conley to get a shot up before the horn.
WHAT A WILD ENDING TO THIS GAME 7 🚨 pic.twitter.com/42zD5SQMnJ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 2, 2020
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was competitive, grueling and everything Game 7 is supposed to be. This time, though, it just didn’t have very many points.
2. Mixed feelings abound for the Jazz
The Jazz blew a 3-1 lead. That isn’t great under any circumstances, especially when the team with the advantage is unable to convert multiple opportunities to close things out before Game 7. Honestly, it is tough to avoid a negative takeaway from that kind of collapse, and the rumblings could follow Utah.
On the other hand, the Jazz should be excited about the breakout of Mitchell, the strong play of Conley and another solid-or-better overall season. Mitchell likely can’t maintain the complete absurdity of the first six games against Denver, but he flashed tremendous potential, adding to an already impressive profile for a young lead guard. Conley struggled at times this season but, in the crucible of a playoff series, he did what the Jazz needed him to do and, with a lucrative contract option, he is likely to return to Salt Lake City.
It has to be bitterly disappointing for the Jazz to see their season end this way, particularly after a notably impressive comeback in a win-or-go-home scenario. Such is life in the NBA Playoffs, though, and Utah didn’t melt down in quite the way that the 3-1 margin could indicate.
3. The Nuggets will need to be (much) better against the Clippers
Murray was unbelievable in this series, scoring 50 points twice and scoring 36-plus points in four of the seven games. Through that lens, there isn’t much more he can do. Jokic had fewer grandiose moments in the series but, after an exceptionally ugly defensive start in the early going, he settled in, made plays, and operated as the All-Star entity that he is. Elsewhere, though, Denver’s performance against Utah won’t be close to enough against the L.A. Clippers.
Granted, the Clippers weren’t quite as dominant as some predicted in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic giving Doc Rivers’ team fits at times. Murray isn’t quite Doncic, even while acknowledging his brilliance in this series, but Denver does have a varied, effective offensive attack that should be able to generate quality looks against even a stingy defense like the Clippers.
On the other end, things might be ugly if Mike Malone can’t find answers in a hurry. Denver improved drastically over the course of the series against Utah but, against L.A., they won’t have the luxury of time. Furthermore, the Clippers have an undeniable force in Kawhi Leonard, with the Nuggets likely unable to neutralize him.
If the Nuggets deploy the defense that was the worst in the NBA Playoffs until Tuesday evening, Denver will be heading home in short order. If the defense of the last 10 quarters or so emerges, Denver could have a puncher’s chance against the Clippers, but they’ll also need to combine that effort with the obscene shotmaking from Murray (and Jokic) that flashed to the surface on a consistent basis against Utah