A series featuring some of the most impressive individual scoring efforts in NBA playoff history could only end one way: a brutal grind to the finish line.
The Nuggets narrowly escaped Game 7 with an 80-78 win over the Jazz on Tuesday night, completing the first 3-1 postseason comeback since the Cavaliers famously took down the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Denver survived a chaotic final sequence in which Torrey Craig botched a layup from point-blank range and Mike Conley missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
This image says everything. And you thought football was a game of inches.
This is how close the Jazz were to winning Game 7. pic.twitter.com/q4FweJGJab— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) September 2, 2020
With the Jazz behind them, the Nuggets must now prepare for a Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Clippers. Before we jump ahead to the next round, though, let's go through three takeaways from an incredible contest.
Nikola Jokic is Mr. Game 7
Jamal Murray deserved every single piece of praise he received throughout this first-round series, but it was Jokic who shut the door on the Jazz.
"The Joker" scored a game-high 30 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out four assists in 39 minutes. The 25-year-old took Rudy Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, into the post with less than a minute to go in regulation and hit a spinning hook shot that turned out to be the deciding basket.
"Jamal was playing — he was playing phenomenal," Jokic told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth after the game. "I cannot let him just go there and die. I'm his partner. I need to help him as much as he helped me in the last game."
In three career Game 7s, Jokic is averaging 26.7 points and 14.0 rebounds. Despite concerns about his conditioning — and those concerns should have been thrown in the trash before this year's playoffs — Jokic continues to produce in big moments.
Nikola Jokic made winning basket over Rudy Gobert and finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds. Jokic had at least 20 and 10 in all 3 Game 7's he's played. Only Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki have had 3 such Game 7's over last 20 seasons according to ESPN Stats and Info.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 2, 2020
The Nuggets really missed Gary Harris' defense
He shot just 1-of-9 from the field in Game 7, but Harris made a major impact on the defensive end.
Harris, who missed the entire NBA regular season restart and the Nuggets' first five playoff games with a hip injury, gave Denver a much-needed option to guard Donovan Mitchell (22 points on 9-of-22 shooting). On Utah's first sideline out of bounds (SLOB) play in the closing seconds, Harris denied Mitchell the ball and forced the Jazz to call a timeout. He then poked the ball away from Mitchell on the ensuing play, leading to the March Madness-style ending.
But it wasn't just Harris' work on Mitchell that stood out. He also played some serious lockdown defense on Jordan Clarkson.
This is the next shooting possessions.— T.J. McBride (@TJMcBrideNBA) September 2, 2020
Gary Harris just fucking swallowed Clarkson whole. That's the definition of putting clamps on someone. pic.twitter.com/o95OqiAm73
It's only right that Harris got the stamp of approval from "The Grindfather" himself, Tony Allen.
Gary Harris get the Mr. 1st team stamp! Couldn’t score but made the biggest play of the game— Tony Allen (@aa000G9) September 2, 2020
A standing ovation for Mitchell and Murray
These guys were on a different different plane of existence.
Mitchell and Murray combined for 475 points over seven games, the most total points by opposing players in a playoff series in NBA history, per ESPN Stats and Info. They each scored with ridiculous efficiency, posting shooting percentages that would be difficult to replicate in a video game.
Jamal Murray: 31.6 PPG on 55.0/53.3/92.0 shooting— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) September 2, 2020
Donovan Mitchell: 36.3 PPG on 52.9/51.6/94.8 shooting
They are just the second and third players in NBA history to average 30+ PPG with 50/50/90 shooting splits in a postseason series (min. 1 3PA per game).
Nothing but respect for these two stars. It might be a cliche, but it truly was a shame someone had to lose.