The Denver Nuggets will not be denied.
With a stunning Game 7 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver became the first team in NBA history to come back from consecutive 3-1 series deficits to advance.
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Improbably, the Nuggets fielded the two best players in a Game 7 against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Nikola Jokic posted a monster triple-double, and Jamal Murray scored 40 points in Denver’s 104-89 win, securing a date with the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and spoiling the anticipated all-L.A. tilt.
In an embarrassing loss, Leonard and George combined for just 24 points on 10-for-28 shooting.
They missed all 11 of their shots in the fourth quarter, finishing their final frame of the season scoreless. Title favorites after taking a commanding series lead in Game 4, the Clippers blew a double-digit first-half lead for the third straight game and again fell short of the franchise’s first-ever conference finals appearance.
It was an ugly defeat for the Clippers, who were savaged by NBA fans after once again falling short of the Western Conference Finals.
It wasn’t only fans who got in on the action, with Portland Trailblazers stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum taking potshots at the Clippers, who they briefly became involved in a war or words with prior to the playoffs.
The Clippers choked again. 🤦🏾♂️ They choked against Houston in 2015 and they choked tonight against the Denver Nuggets.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 16, 2020
Can't lie, thought it was gonna be an All LA west Finals coming into the season. As a fan, haven't felt robbed like this since we were supposed to get the Cavs/ Lakers final in 09. 😑— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) September 16, 2020
The Clippers fell to 0-8 all-time with a chance to clinch a Conference Finals berth. According to Elias, the Clippers’ eight straight losses with a chance to clinch a Conference Finals berth is the longest streak in NBA postseason history.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) September 16, 2020
WHAT AN EMBARRASSMENT BY THE CLIPPERS— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 16, 2020
Congrats to the Nuggets, but I truly can’t believe this.
Blown 3-1 lead, the third of Doc Rivers’ coaching career
Kawhi Leonard shot 6/22
Paul George shot 4/16
One of the biggest choke jobs in NBA history pic.twitter.com/uguV1moeoA
Same ole Clippers. A 2nd Round Dynasty. 😂😂🤣 pic.twitter.com/mN8EHjEujk— Ice Cube (@icecube) September 16, 2020
My last tweet before I finish this glass. They did vote they ain’t wanna play no more. . . But I didn’t think they was gonna go out like that 😂— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) September 16, 2020
Clippers’ squad questioned after ‘biggest choke job’
The union of Leonard and George last summer vaulted the Clippers into the championship conversation, along with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rival Lakers.
Leonard’s reign as Finals MVP will come to an end 16 months after he led the Toronto Raptors to their first title. He arrived in L.A. with the hope that the Clippers could shed their reputation for misery, but instead stacked their most painful loss ever on top of it.
What felt like an inevitable L.A. showdown was theirs for the taking. Instead, pressure now mounts for the Clippers in the offseason.
The core of a contender is under contract for next season — and only next season. The front office mortgaged the future to pair George with Leonard, trading Danilo Gallinari, rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, four first-round picks and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now clouded by bitter defeat, George and Leonard can both become unrestricted free agents in 2021.
The blown series lead also raises questions about coach Doc Rivers’ ability to right the ship next season. Tuesday’s loss marked the sixth time a team coached by Rivers has blown a series lead with three wins.
But enough about the Clippers. The Nuggets earned this.
Nuggets prevail in sensation Game 7 NBA upset
The two-man game between Jokic and Murray was brilliant. Jokic finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists, commanding Game 7 despite a 5-for-13 shooting effort.
His first assist found Murray a minute into the game, and his 12th found him again for a three-pointer that gave the Nuggets a 98-80 lead with 2:24 to play — the moment reality set in that they were actually going to erase a second straight 3-1 deficit.
In between, Jokic proved time and again why he is the greatest passing center in NBA history. Drawing double teams, the 25-year-old found cutters and curlers and spot-up shooters. It was an absolute clinic.
On the other side of their pick and roll was Murray, a 23-year-old who logged his fourth 40-point outing of the playoffs. The three prior came during Denver’s 3-1 comeback against the Utah Jazz in the first round.
Now, the Nuggets will play in their first conference finals since 2009, when Carmelo Anthony pushed Kobe Bryant’s eventual champion Lakers to six games. James and Davis pose a similar threat this time around, only this young Denver team enters with the confidence of winning six close-out games in six opportunities.
There is no denying them now. Jokic, Murray and the Nuggets are absolutely for real.