DENVER – In what was a thrilling Game 7 on their home court, and in front of a sellout crowd of 19,000-plus, the second-seeded Denver Nuggets grinded out a hard-fought 90-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs at the Pepsi Center.
One year after just missing out on the playoffs, Denver, thanks in part to a brilliant coaching job by Mike Malone and led by an emerging duo of All-Star center Nikola Jokic and point guard Jammal Murray raised their level of play when it mattered the most down the stretch, in a game in which Denver never trailed, led by as much as 17, but never quite put away as the Spurs came to as close as two in the closing seconds.
Some may argue that the age of the big man and true center is extinct, the one known as The Joker continues to prove that assessment wrong as he finished with a triple-double in scoring 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.
While his name is not mentioned among the NBA’s top point guards such as James Harden, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook, Murray may be the next up-and-coming superstar to watch as he posted a game-high 23 points, including a game-clinching floater with 36.8 seconds left to make it 90-86.
While the game itself was rather unwatchable—and very forgettable in setting hoops back a full century, thanks to both teams laying enough bricks that would’ve made masons proud—Denver eeked out an old-school, white-knuckle kind of game in The Age Of Three that would have made Dr. James Naismith proud.
Both San Antonio and Denver combined to go 2-for-22 from three-point range in the first half and made just 28 of 90 shots. The Spurs’ 34 points at halftime matched what they scored in the first quarter of Game 6.
Such a low-scoring and boorish display of basketball can only help a emerging team such as the Nuggets grow and move forward, not only on Monday against Damien Lillard and the dangerous Portland Trail Blazers, but hopefully to the Western Conference Finals and beyond.
And while they did it against Spurs 2.5 sans Kawhi Leonard, with Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan elsewhere, this is a franchise-defined series win for the Nuggets, as they earned their first series win in almost a decade and for only the second time since 1994.
They may be young, they may be inexperienced, but Denver oozes talent, potential and two franchise cornerstones in Jokic and Murray to build around. If this was a high school exam, the Nuggets scored an A.
To burrow from their postseason slogan, hopefully the upstart Nuggets can grow from their seven-game war with the Spurs and elevate their game to match the Mile High altitude that they play in.