Nuggets make NBA history behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, stun Clippers in Game 7

The Denver Nuggets authored a story so audacious Tuesday night it could’ve only happened inside a Disney bubble.

Improbably the Nuggets made NBA history, storming back from their second 3-1 deficit of their riveting postseason run. The Nuggets shocked the Clippers, and the NBA world, winning Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in convincing fashion, 104-89. The only ones they didn’t shock were themselves, as the Clippers fumbled three separate chances to advance to their first ever conference finals.

But contrary to the popular narrative that circulated outside the bubble, this wasn’t a plucky upset where the No. 3 Nuggets skated by the No. 2 Clippers. Game 7’s decisive nature was the result of a team that believed, deeply, that it was better than the prohibitive title favorite.

“We sensed it early,” said Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, leaving no doubt the space Denver occupied inside the Clippers’ heads. “And we dropped Game 3.”

That cold-blooded assertion gave the impression Murray felt it never should’ve gone the distance in the first place. But it did, and the Nuggets never folded.

Murray said he knew they had the momentum even before they started their comeback march in Game 5. As irrational as that sounds, it squares with the unyielding confidence the Nuggets have possessed all season.

“I think we saw it in Game 3,” Murray said. “When we dropped that game, it was self-inflicted. I think they realized how good we were.”

In winning their sixth consecutive elimination game, which ties an NBA record, the Nuggets booked a date with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 is Friday night.

“Our goal was never to get to a Game 7,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Our goal when we started this whole season was to win a championship, and as outrageous as that may sound for people outside of our group, we never lost sight of that.”

Friday’s start should allow Game 7 superstars Nikola Jokic and Murray ample time to recover. And though Denver’s cornerstones turned in awe-inspiring performances — Jokic with a triple-double and Murray with a game-high 40 points — Denver’s defense deserved much of the credit, too. The Clippers didn’t make their first field goal of the fourth quarter until there was only 4:58 left in the game, by which time Denver had all but put the series away.

“We are just not accepting that somebody’s better than us,” Jokic said.

Jokic finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists, his vision and his effort dominating the game though he took just 13 shots due to the Clippers’ constant double teams. Murray sizzled with six 3-pointers and finished 15-of-26 from the field.

Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George enjoyed no such freedom. Denver held them to a combined 24 points on 10-of-38 shooting.

Murray and Jokic flipped the script in the third quarter, taking all the attention they attracted in the first half and pouring it into open looks for their teammates. And unlike in the first half, the Nuggets’ role players capitalized.

Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris connected on five 3-pointers in the quarter, which upended an early seven-point deficit. Meanwhile, Jokic carved the Clippers liked a surgeon and served six assists to pace the runaway. The Nuggets carried an 82-74 lead into the final quarter.

Malone claimed his group was “relaxed” heading into Tuesday’s elimination game, while lobbing a few jokes to help make his case.

“We’ve never looked at it like putting any pressure on ourselves,” Malone said. “…  When we get down by 16 points in the third quarter, I know we’re ready.”

Murray turned the court into his personal canvas during a scorching second quarter, dropping 20 points on nine field goals while never leaving the game. The Clippers were up by as many as 12 late in the second quarter before Murray scored 11 points over the final 3:57 to hack into the deficit. Denver’s late surge trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 56-54 heading into halftime.

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