'What an embarrassment': NBA world in disbelief over historic 'choke'

Yahoo Sports Staff
·5-min read
Kawhi Leonard is pictured looking on during a timeout.
Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers forfeited a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, going down 104-89 in the deciding game seven. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

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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.

LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers is pictured during a time-out.
LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers is under pressure after the team's loss in game seven of the Western Conference semi-finals. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are pictured celebrating after the game.
Denver Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic celebrate after winning through to the conference finals. NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.