The Denver Nuggets will face the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs after their 80-78 Game 7 victory over Utah, as the Jazz become the 12th team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead, and the first one to do it since the Warriors in '16 NBA Finals.
Whereas the first six games were all about the duel between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell, the winner-take-all game was centered around the battle of big men. Nikola Jokić came out on top, leading all scorers with 30 points, and hitting what proved to be a game-winning hook shot over Rudy Gobert with 27.8 seconds left on the clock. Gobert put up a huge double-double of 19 points and 18 rebounds but was outplayed by a Serbian center who once again put up a superstar worthy postseason performance.
“We are laughing right now. But it could be tragic.”
Nikola Jokić, ESPN
The Nuggets really did dodge a bullet. After Jokić's shot to put them up by 2, the Jazz had two chances to tie the game or even win it in regulation. But with Mitchell losing the ball, and Mike Conley's potential game-winning 3-pointer spinning out, their run in the bubble was officially over.
“Man, first off, if we lost the game on that layup, that would've been so bad. Mike almost hit that. I was looking at that shot like, 'Man, if this goes in, I'm going to be heartbroken.'”
Jamal Murray, ESPN
The one who was heartbroken was Donovan Mitchell. After Conley's in-and-out three, the Jazz star laid on the floor, as he came up short in what was a historic first-round series, and an all-time great individual battle between him and Murray. Mitchell finished the game with 22 points, 15 of which he scored in the second half to help the Jazz get back in the game after being down in double digits for an entire second quarter. He also helped his team hold Murray to 17 points on .333 shooting, but it still wasn't enough to secure a second-round matchup against the Clippers.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented showdown between Mitchell and Murray will go down in history as one of the greatest postseason duels the NBA has ever seen. After joining MJ and A.I. as only players with multiple 50-point games in a playoff series, young stars have once again inked their names in the NBA record books.
Mitchell also broke Curry’s record for most 3-pointers made in a playoff series with 33. Murray was also in a position to eclipse Curry, but his one made three-pointer in Game 7 has him sitting in second place along with the Warriors' superstar.
So I guess that's a small victory for Mitchell. Everything else is on Murray and the Nuggets, as they're ready to face Kawhi and the Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday, despite the Nuggets star not being too happy about it.
Let's just hope for as good of a matchup as Denver's seven-game series against the Jazz.