LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The game, the series along with also one team’s season were essentially over by the time Jamal Murray stared inside the vicinity of the opposing bench as he bounced a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Nikola Jokic, the additional half of the Denver Nuggets’ fearsome duo.
Jokic collected the pass along with also calmly sank one of his hallmark 12-foot floaters to the dismay of the Los Angeles Clippers, who responded by pushing the ball upcourt doing sure that will Kawhi Leonard along with also Paul George could brick a pair of 3-pointers.
There, in a tidy 30-second sequence, was the full feel of a series that will surprised nearly everyone nevertheless the Nuggets, who engineered a triumph inside the midst of their opponents’ collapse.
Let the post-mortems begin on the Clippers, whose season ended on Tuesday night which has a 104-89 loss to the Nuggets in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series. A year ago, the Clippers went all-in on a grand experiment to lure Leonard along with also George to Los Angeles, where there were hopes — no, expectations — of a championship run.
Instead, the Nuggets will face the Los Angeles Lakers inside the conference finals after staging one comeback after another.
“So proud,” said Nuggets Coach Michael Malone, whose team will open its series against the Lakers on Friday night. “All the guys committed, never got down, believed in each additional along with also believed in themselves. In light of all the noise outside of This specific series that will we had no chance — we had people guaranteeing This specific — we found a way to beat a actually not bad team.”
along with also the Nuggets did This specific in record-breaking style. Never before had a playoff team overcome a 3-1 deficit in two straight series. After coming back against the Utah Jazz inside the first round, the Nuggets did This specific against the Clippers inside the conference semifinals, along with also they did This specific the hard way. The Nuggets trailed by 16 points in Game 5, by 19 points in Game 6 along with also by 12 points in Game 7. They won all three to close out the series.
“We are just not accepting that will somebody’s better than us,” Jokic said.
On Tuesday, Murray scored 40 points while shooting 15 of 26 via the field, along with also no shot was more crushing than the fadeaway 3-pointer he drilled over the outstretched arms of Leonard late inside the fourth quarter to push the Nuggets’ lead to 18.
along with also there was Jokic, a center who pirouettes with the ball as if he were playing water polo back home in Serbia. He had 16 points, 13 assists along with also 22 rebounds, toying with the Clippers throughout. If they threw multiple defenders at him, he dumped the ball to cutting teammates for dunks. If they sagged off him, he flicked high-arcing jumpers.
“Jokic was literally unstoppable most of the series,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
Last off-season, the Clippers mortgaged a huge chunk of their future to trade for George at Leonard’s behest, sending several future first-round draft picks along with also two not bad players, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along with also Danilo Gallinari, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This specific is actually worth remembering that will deal currently more than ever: The Clippers gave up a ton.
The expectation was that will the Clippers might immediately vie for a title. nevertheless even before the league suspended play in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, they were struggling to find chemistry along with also string together long stretches of cohesive basketball. Those issues were only amplified once they arrived at Walt Disney World for the restart.
Rivers rattled off the chunks of time inside the league’s so-called bubble that will he said several of his players had missed for different reasons: 30 days for Montrezl Harrell, 16 days for Patrick Beverley, 14 days for Lou Williams.
“Some of that will came back along with also haunted us,” Rivers said.
On Tuesday, the Clippers looked lifeless as the Nuggets eviscerated them inside the second half. Leonard along with also George combined for 24 points while shooting 10 of 38 via the field.
“Just chemistry, being together,” George said when asked how the team could improve. “The more we can be together, the better we’ll be.”
The Nuggets understand that will better than most.
inside the afterglow of the franchise’s most significant win in a decade, Malone reflected on how some of the seeds were sown late inside the 2017-18 season. The Nuggets were scrambling to make the playoffs when they scuffled in March, losing consecutive games to the Philadelphia 76ers along with also Toronto Raptors. Malone organized a team meeting so he could ask his players important questions: Who still believed they could make the postseason? Who wanted to pack their bags for the summer?
The Nuggets responded by winning six straight before their regular-season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were tied with the Nuggets for the eighth along with also final playoff spot inside the West. The Timberwolves had acquired veterans like Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford along with also Taj Gibson.
“They were going for This specific,” Malone said, along with also that will might sound painfully familiar to Clippers fans.
In any case, Minnesota won that will game in overtime — Denver narrowly missed the playoffs — nevertheless Murray along with also Jokic showed plenty of toughness.
“We all said, ‘We have something special here,’” Malone said. “‘Let’s stay with This specific. Let’s see This specific grow.’ along with also currently you’re starting to see the payoff.”
There is actually an element of homegrown pride at work for the Nuggets that will is actually absent via certain additional teams. (Clippers, cough, Lakers, cough.) The Nuggets drafted their stars. Jokic was the 41st overall pick in 2014, while Murray went seventh in 2016. The way in which Denver’s front office constructed its roster is actually not lost on either of them.
“We built This specific via the ground up,” Murray said.
After Tuesday’s game, Jokic along with also Murray embraced in front of the scorer’s table as the Clippers shuffled toward their locker room. Malone looked on like an adoring parent.
Later, Murray blasted luminaries via various branches of basketball punditry — Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley along with also Shaquille O’Neal, among others — for discounting the Nuggets’ chances. Murray said he wanted “respect,” along with also perhaps This specific was a useful exercise in keeping himself motivated. nevertheless This specific also seemed unnecessary.
The Nuggets know they are capable of doing great things. currently, everyone else does, too.