Good morning, folks. Did you see the Utah Jazz blow a 3-1 lead? Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
Murray and Nuggets complete comeback against Jazz
I don’t know what the hell kind of basketball the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz played on Tuesday night, but it sure wasn’t anything like the previous six matchups between the two.
Coming into a series-deciding Game 7, these two teams were constantly lighting each other up for globs of points. Denver averaged 115 points through the first six games of the series while Utah was going over 119 per game. But on Tuesday, with the series and a trip to the Western Conference Semifinals on the line, both teams had to stave off tired legs just to hit the 80-point threshold. In the end, Denver prevailed with a tightly-contested 80-78 win that moves them along in the playoffs and sets them up with a date against the Los Angeles Clippers. Let’s dive into how we got here.
It truly was a tale of two halves in Game 7, with Utah looking like a Junior Varsity team throughout the first half and Denver doing the same in the second half. Starting with Utah, it wasn’t that they weren’t just hitting shots, they couldn’t get the ball to the rim, and if they did, I wouldn’t have been able to count on two hands how many makable shots came off the rim. The Jazz managed just 21 first-quarter points–a Bubble low at the time–and followed it up with a pitiful 15-point showing in the second period. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were dealing with minor foul trouble, as well, and Mitchell, in particular, struggled to find his groove on offense. Denver led 50-36 at the intermission and it felt like it should have been more had Denver been able to convert several missed shots near the basket.
In the third quarter, the script completely flipped. All of the sudden, Denver’s offense stalled out and Utah (mainly Mitchell) went on the attack. Jamal Murray was anything but the Jamal Murray we witnessed during the previous three games of this series, ending his night with just 17 points and four assists on 7-21 shooting and a 1-6 mark from deep. Even still, the Nuggets extended its advantage to as many as 19 points early in the third quarter before the Jazz mounted a massive comeback. Mitchell expressively exploded for nine consecutive Jazz points before a Mike Conley triple cut down the Denver lead even further. By the end of the third, it was Denver who had only posted 15 points in the quarter, barely hanging on to a 65-60 lead as we went into the fourth and final period of the series.
The momentum continued to swing in Utah’s favor, as they immediately rattled off eight straight points to start the fourth and went up 68-65. I’ll be honest, at this point in the night, I was fully expecting Utah to run away with the win. Both teams were absolutely gassed, but Murray was especially sluggish after taking several hard falls, and the Nuggets as a team appeared worn out. Plus, Mitchell was a monster in the third, dropping 13 of his 22 points in the frame.
I’d been hyping up the Murray and Mitchell Show pretty hard over the last 48 or so hours, and they unfortunately disappointed for the most part, but it was typical that this game still came down to the finals seconds. Nikola Jokic hit a couple of huge buckets down the stretch, including a floater in the paint with 27 seconds left that gave Denver a two-point lead. It was Jokic, not Murray, who was the star for Denver, as the big man posted 30 points and 14 boards. Murray hit two key shots in the closing minutes that helped keep his team slightly ahead.
The final 15 seconds of this game were absolutely bizarre… With only 15 seconds remaining and the Jazz holding onto the ball down by two, Mitchell drove into the paint only to have it poked away straight into the hands of Murray. The former Wildcat immediately began to push the break with roughly 11 seconds left. Denver had a 4-on-1 opportunity with precious seconds ticking away and the lead in hand. Murray then dished the ball over to Torrey Craig on the right side of the lane, only to see a wide-open layup fall off the other side of the rim. Now with only five seconds left in the series, Gobert snatched the rebound, slung the ball up to Conley who sprinted to the 3-point line and fired up a potential game-winning shot right as the buzzer sounded–the ball somehow circles out and the Nuggets hang on to win.
Ball game. Series.
All I can say is: wow. This was hands down the best series of the first round and it’ll be hard for another to top it. The Murray and Mitchell Show broke all kinds of scoring records, even with a poor shooting performance in Game 7, becoming the highest-scoring pair of opponents in a playoff series in NBA history. The two on-court rivals combined for 475 points, breaking the previous record of 463. Denver also joined rare company, becoming just the 12th team ever to complete a 3-1 series comeback. After winning the first game in overtime, Denver was blown out in Games 2 and 3 before losing by a mere two points in Game 4. After that disappointing loss, the Nuggets went on to win three straight games.
Murray and Mitchell clearly have a ton of respect for each other on the floor and that doesn’t stop when the ball quits bouncing. Following the game, Murray came over to console Mitchell, helping him to his feet and embracing the former Louisville Cardinal. The two have battled at the AAU level, college level, and should be doing the same at the NBA level for another decade to come.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) September 2, 2020
This outing marked the third consecutive Game 7 that Murray and the Nuggets have been forced to play in, dating back to last season. They found a way to escape Utah, but now they have a quick turnaround before going up against a rested Clippers team. Murray’s reaction when he found out about the one-day break is almost that of fear.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 2, 2020
This actually made me laugh, but poor Murray. This dude was getting bumped and pushed around like a ragdoll in Game 7 and it was obvious that his energy levels were low. If I had to guess, it’s going to take another 50-point game or two from Murray if the Nuggets want a chance at moving past a stacked Clippers team. But let’s all enjoy this win while we can. Murray is still a blossoming superstar and he’ll have another perfect stage to showcase that in the next round.
Jamal Murray, ladies and gents… pic.twitter.com/E1wSkHtYQY
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) September 2, 2020
This was fun.
Other notes from the Bubble
- Here is the updated schedule for all second-round matchups, via Chris Haynes:
- There’s another massive Game 7 set for late Wednesday night between the Rockets and Thunder. Make sure to tune into that.
Series standings from Tuesday
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(3) Celtics lead (2) Raptors 2-0
WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND
(3) Nuggets beat (6) Jazz 4-3
|Jamal Murray (DEN)||80-78 W vs. UTA||17||7-21 (1-6)||2||4||1||0||2||-4||41|
|Enes Kanter (BOS)||102-99 W @ TOR||DNP-CD||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE
6:30 (ESPN): Heat (Adebayo, Herro) @ Bucks (Bledsoe: questionable) [MIA leads 1-0]
9:00 (ESPN): Rockets @ Thunder (Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander, Noel) [Series tied 3-3]