After 7 games, each one bringing with it a roller coaster of emotions, Denver Nuggets fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Our team is advancing to the second round for the first time in ten years after winning their series 4-3 against the San Antonio Spurs. It was a tough series, and momentum was on the Spurs’ side after winning the first game in Denver, and then again after a big win in San Antonio to take the series lead, 2-1. Each time the Nuggets took a hit, however, they bounced right back. It was a very impressive accomplishment for the youngest team in the 2018-19 playoffs, and each game was filled with a myriad of memorable moments. Therefore, it’s time to recap the first round in a playoff edition of “Mile Highs and Lows.”
Series record: 4-3, NUGGETS WIN!!!
Game of the Series: Game 7, 90-86
This series took all 7 games to determine the winner, and fortunately for the Nuggets, a great regular season provided them with the home court advantage that ended up being their saving grace. With the exception of a 2-2 tie early in the first quarter in Game 7, the Nuggets held the lead the entire way in this game. However, things got really interesting in the fourth quarter when the Spurs rallied from behind to make it a two-point game with 52 seconds left. These are the moments that you live for as a fan, when you get to see who comes up big on your team to save the day. After a timeout from Malone, the Nuggets turned to Jamal Murray, and he came through with a floater off of one leg that gave the Nuggets a little bit more breathing room with the lead now four points. Down on the other end, it was none other than Torrey Craig who came up with a huge block against DeMar DeRozan to seal the Spurs’ fate and send the Nuggets on their way to the second round.
It was a gritty win for the home team and one that will no doubt be pivotal in the development of this young squad. For most of the rotation players, this is their first playoff experience and already they have shown the ability to stay poised in tough situations. After the game, fans got to celebrate as confetti poured down and realization sunk in that the team would advance to the second round for the first time in 10 years. It was a great game and a great moment once they finally secured the victory.
Highlight of the Series: Jamal Murray with the nasty dunk over Rudy Gay in Game 4
Arguably the best highlight of the series garnered the best reaction of the series. In the third quarter of a tight Game 4, Murray slashed to the rim and elevated for a dunk over Rudy Gay. The play was a big one considering that the Nuggets were on the road and needed plays like this to quiet the crowd as much as possible in a must-win game.
Player of the Series: Nikola Jokic
Jokic, to no surprise to anybody that has followed the Nuggets all season, was the best and most consistent player in this series by far. He absolutely dominated with averages of 23.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 9.1 assists. In the sixth game of the series, he set a franchise record for most points in a playoff game with 43 on an insane 19/30 shooting night. Throughout the series, his passes were crisp, his touch at the rim was smooth, and the Spurs could not figure out a way to slow him down despite multiple opportunities to do so. As evidenced in Game 6 when Jokic went out and the Nuggets’ deficit went from five points to 13 points, the Nuggets absolutely need Joker on the court for as many minutes as possible to have a chance at winning any game at this stage in the season. He not only met the high expectations that were put on him to start the series, but he far exceeded them in his first taste of postseason basketball. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: #15 is the real deal.
Story of the Series: Michael Malone makes a lineup change, inserts Torrey Craig over Will Barton in Game 4
Four games into the series, Michael Malone knew he needed to make a change. After Derrick White torched Murray and the Nuggets for 36 points in Game 3, Malone opted to insert the defensive minded Torrey Craig into the starting lineup, sending a struggling Will Barton to the bench. This allowed Gary Harris to defend White, as Craig took on the responsibility of guarding a versatile DeMar DeRozan. It was undoubtedly a tough decision for Malone to make, but it paid off almost immediately, in ways that even the most optimistic fan would never have predicted. Not only was White held to 8 points on 3/8 shooting in Game 4, but Craig was unconscious from the three-point line and ended up notching 18 points to help his team get a much needed win on the road to even the series. This adjustment showed that Malone is willing to make the tough decisions as a series unfolds in order to give his team the best chance to win.
Surprise of the Series: The Nuggets win the series despite having to play catch-up a lot of the way
Out of seven games, the Nuggets had the lead after the first quarter in only two of them (Games 5 and 7). In this series, it felt as though the Nuggets were always playing from behind. While it was impressive that they were able to win two of those games in which they fell behind by double digits, it definitely resulted in a lot of frustration and at times panic among the Nuggets faithful. This was never more true than in Game 2, where the Nuggets fell behind by 19 points TWICE in a must-win game. It looked at this point as though the Nuggets were simply not ready for the bright lights of the playoffs and would be sent home early in four or five games. The Nuggets, however, rallied behind Murray’s 21 points in the fourth quarter to tie the series, 1-1 and save their season. In Games 3 and 4, it was a similar story as the Nuggets fell behind early and were forced to regroup in order to stay in the game.
It was a weird series, given that the momentum kept switching sides and it never really felt as though either team was the clear favorite to advance as the games went on. While the Nuggets had the best player of the series, the Spurs got off to great starts that forced the Nuggets to play from behind in all but two games. I honestly don’t know which is more surprising: the fact that the Nuggets struggled in first quarters in this series (even in the first two games at home), or the fact that the team never lost their poise in these moments and never stayed down for too long.