LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – In what was one of the NBA’s most shocking upsets in postseason and one of it’s greatest Cinderella stories, the Denver Nuggets continued their improbable playoff run in completing their second comeback from 3-1 down in downing the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-89.
Denver, who has recently came back from 3-1 vs. the Utah Jazz, were heavy underdogs against the favored Clippers, who many had picked to come out of the West—over the Lakers—to win the NBA title.
Too bad that the Nuggets didn’t get that memo, as to burrow from ESPN’s NBA play-by-play commentator, Mike Breen dubbed them the ‘Comeback Kids from Colorado’ as they became the first team in NBA history to overcome two 3-1 deficits in the same post-season, in addition to overcoming double-digit deficits to do so.
Perhaps the hottest player down in the bubble, second-year point guard Jamal Murray put on another show of the ages in single-handily outscoring the vaunted—and over-hyped Clippers duo of reigning NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, 40 to 24.
In helping lead the Nuggets back from 3-1, Murray averaged 29 points a game. If Murray is Denver’s Batman, then Serbian-born All-Star center, Nikola Jokic is Robin, as he turned into a matchup nightmare down in the post, out on the perimeter and his pin-point passing in averaging 24 points, 8.3 assists and 16.6 rebounds.
What helped fuel their second straight comeback?
While their Pepsi Center co-habitants season ended recently, the other avalanche that came out of The Mile High City was the Nuggets second-half surges in Games 5-7 as they outscored L.A. 181—117 in Games 5-7, a 64-point turnaround. The Nuggets second-half scoring onslaught began in Game 5, when they outscored the Clippers, 67—49 in Game 5, 64 –35 in Game 6 and in 50 – 33 Game 7.
Denver also outshot Los Angeles, 57% to 30% and also outshot the Clippers from three-point range 53% to 25%.
Credit needs to be given to Nuggets head coach Mike Malone in making proper adjustments in the second half in running Denver’s offense thru Jokic as a facilitator on offense in bringing the ball up, having him passing out of the post and being used in a two-man game on screens, pick and rolls and pick-and-pop action.
If you still don’t know who Jokic is by now, shame on you for not knowing and seeing the NBA’s most offensively gifted big man, who is a triple threat in passing, shooting and rebounding.
Did I fail to mention that he had a triple-double in Game 7 with 16 points, 13 assists, 22 rebounds?
As he is a Euro, he is naturally considered “soft” a la his fellow Balkan compatriot in Slovenian-born Mavericks swingman, Luka Doncic. All he did was paint his proverbial hardwood masterpiece on the NBA’s newly-crowned Sixth Man in C/PF Montrezl Harrell, who was a no-show when it counted and averaged a mere 11.0 points for the series.
And what about the start-studded talent-laden Clippers who were SUPPOSED to be facing the Lakers in the West Finals led by The Klaw and PG-13?
In what could be best described as a tragic calamity of errors, Clippers superstar duo of Leonard scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds while shooting 6-22 from the field. George added a meek 10 points, while going 2-11 from 3-point range and committed five turnovers. The two superstars who were supposed to put the Clippers over the top—and on par with their more storied 16-time NBA champion co-tenants, Leonard and George went a combined 0-11 in the fourth quarter, including 0-7 from 3-point FG.
The so-called Klaw looked more like the uber-popular Instagramable preferred drink of Millennials, Bear Claw, and the man who calls himself PG-13, looked like he was a bad D-list horror movie gone wrong.
In a city that craves drama and loves glamour, the Clippers looked and played like a bad reality show filled with big egos and little substance, instead of the co-NBA title favorites that many so-called “experts” pegged them to be.
In missing wide open three-pointers and easy lay-ups. In what proved to be the nadir and proverbial microcosm of the Clippers latest—and greatest choke job in NBA post-season history—when George hit the side of the backboard on a corner three, that pretty much was the coup de grace for the wannabe paper champions from Tinseltown.
The Clippers scored 33 points in the entire second half (tied for fewest in any half in franchise postseason history, dating back to Buffalo and San Diego) and didn’t make their first field goal until roughly the seven minute mark in the fourth, as Denver was pulling away.
This was not a BAD night for the Clippers, this was a club—with a naturally-ingrained inferiority complex—hoping to get out from under the shadow of the league’s most storied franchise, and tumbling into the black hole of incompetence.
The Clippers dropped to 0-8 in closeout games with a chance to advance to the Conference Finals, extending the franchise’s—and all-time sports worst 50-year drought.
Whatever excuses the few remaining brave souls that still call themselves Clippers fans today have from a lack of cohesion and chemistry to load management, many in the bubble won’t shed a tear in waving ‘Bye Felicia” a team that walked and strutted around LBV as if they had already won the franchise’s first title, as the Clippers were a revolving door in playing together for fewer than a dozen games thanks to Patrick Beverley being injured and ‘Lemon Pepper’ Lou Williams—and his 10.0 points per game—dipping out to grab wings at a Atlanta-area strip club.
What about the Nuggets who were without Gary Harris and Will Barton? That’s what I thought! Zero excuses for a team that was supposed to win it all, especially over a team that many in the league call ‘soft’
If the Nuggets are ‘soft’ then Clippers head coach, Doc Rivers is Charmin tissue in the post-season as becomes the first coach to blow three 3-1 leads with an all-time NBA worst win pct in closeout games mark of 14-27.
With their sights already set on taking down the other L.A. in the Lakers and LeBron James, the Nuggets are on a high, as they rightfully should be on right now. While their chances against the heavily-favored Lakers are slim to none, that’s just the way they like it, as not only have they gotten the league’s whole attention in knocking off the Clippers, but finally got some well-deserved respect put on their name in doing so.
It’s time that everyone else, get used to hearing and seeing a lot more of a young, confident and entertaining team that has a budding ‘Big Three’ of their own in Jokic, Murray and Michael Porter Jr. that can play with and beat anybody, anytime, anywhere.
You’ve been warned.