- Jamal Murray...I mean...what can I say?
- Denver’s defense locks in when needed
- Gary Harris returns and offers a defensive lift
- Mason Plumlee’s hustle was a difference maker
- Nuggets force Game 7
This team is unbelievable. Jamal Murray, frankly, is unbelievable. It wasn’t just him, but Murray got the Denver Nuggets rolling and never stopped hitting shots. His energy and efficiency was something the entire team fed on, and as a team, the Nuggets forced Game 7 in a massive win.
Here are my five takeaways:
What more can you say about Jamal Murray?
So much of what Jamal Murray does for the Nuggets is emotional. The Nuggets have needed an emotional leader on the floor for the last two seasons, and while Murray wasn’t always the most effective from game to game, the scoring bursts were enormous. When Murray got going, the Nuggets almost always won. They had Nikola Jokic and his offensive brilliance to rely upon most nights, but when Murray got red hot, Denver just let him go win the game.
Now, Murray is consistently bringing it. He’s confidently stepping into the shots he needs to take to be a superstar, and he’s making those shots at a superstar clip. Tonight, Murray dropped another 50 points, this time on 17/24 from the field and raining down hellfire with nine makes from three-point range. He chipped in six assists and five rebounds, and while he also had five turnovers, his decision making down the stretch was ironclad. Even the pull-up three in transition on a 3-on-1 fast break dropped perfectly through the net. He was unbelievably good.
Jamal Murray is an incredible basketball player, but most importantly, he is an awesome person.— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) August 31, 2020
Everyone needs to watch this video. pic.twitter.com/HtVHrceoxE
But the postgame interview may have been more impressive. Murray barely said a word about his second 50-point playoff game in three games and instead focused on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and things that matter more than basketball. That’s a true leader and genuinely good person right there, and I wouldn’t want anyone else leading this Nuggets team right now.
The Defense locked in when needed
The TNT broadcast team spent the first five minutes of this game roasting Denver’s defense for not being able to contest any Jazz shooter on the perimeter. Nikola Jokic was playing some drop coverage, and the Jazz were hitting the shots they needed to hit at an insanely high clip.
When the Nuggets started mixing up the coverages, the Jazz offense slowed down. Every member of the Nuggets rotation had some great defensive plays tonight, even Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic who all made some great rotations and contested shots better as the game went on. When the Nuggets started subbing players in, they started playing Jokic at the level of the screen a bit more and having him show hard against Jazz ball handlers. Sometimes, they got around him and scored anyway, but most of the time, Denver’s defense was pretty solid.
If the Nuggets are going to win this series, that level of effort and execution has to be present for 48 minutes. Denver got some great stretches tonight. Maybe that’s all they will need, but it would be ludicrous to rely on another insane Murray performance as the only thing keeping Denver alive.
Gary Harris makes an impactful return
Speaking of defense, Gary Harris made his long awaited return to action after five and a half months of not playing an NBA game. He had been nursing a hip injury for most of the series, and it didn’t look like he would be able to contribute anything to the playoffs with Denver going home before he was able to return.
Well, he returned in Game 6 and played 21 minutes off the bench. Offensively, he was more or less invisible save for an impressive drive to the basket in the second quarter and a couple of turnovers. Defensively? He was an absolute pest. Jazz guards struggled to get by him off the dribble, and Harris shut down several baskets in transition by picking up the ball handler and using insanely quick feet and hands to wall off the paint. He replaced PJ Dozier in the rotation, so he had some big shoes to fill defensively. He got it done today.
We will see what level of impact he will have in Game 7. Expecting a ton from him would be a bad idea, but the Nuggets need a guard defender out there to make Jordan Clarkson’s job more difficult off the bench. When Harris was on him, Clarkson couldn’t get an inch of space. That could be huge in Tuesday’s win-or-go-home game.
Mason Plumlee was a big difference maker
It’s hard to be a backup center in the playoffs when you’re backing up a center like Jokic that needs to be on the floor nearly every minute of the game. Plumlee’s role in the playoffs has been extremely small, and early in the series, it’s clear he wasn’t excelling.
Tonight though, Jokic got into foul trouble late in the first quarter and sat down earlier than he normally does. Plumlee came in, and as Nuggets fans waited with bated breath to see how the team would perform without the Joker, Plumlee stepped up and did yeoman’s work on both sides of the ball. He contested shots and rebounded well defensively, accumulating a steal and a block in short order. He also grabbed three offensive rebounds, set screens to free up Murray offensively, and had an assist to Murray for an And-1 layup.
The Nuggets were a +11 in Plumlee’s 12 minutes and won the game by 12 points. That feels like a big deal.
It had to be Game 7 — It had to be
With the way that both teams have battled in this series and how evenly matched all of the (close) games have been, it’s only fitting that this series goes to seven games. Donovan Mitchell has put on a show for Utah Jazz fans everywhere, and Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson have been a great supporting cast. They have executed extremely well offensively, and despite the fact that the Nuggets have defensive issues, the 1996 Chicago Bulls wouldn’t be defending the Jazz well in first quarters either. They just have a propensity to make every shot, no matter how open.
On the other side, Jamal Murray has absolutely arrived as a star in the bubble. He’s been excellent in the clutch, has put this team on his back at every needed moment, and keeps making special play after special play that the Jazz just don’t have an answer for. His supporting cast features Nikola Jokic, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., and a smattering of others, all of whom are making the necessary plays to keep Denver’s offense flowing the way it needs to for Murray to cook when he can.
It all comes down to Tuesday. Two heavyweights are going to go another 12 rounds. Murray vs Mitchell. Jokic vs Gobert. Nuggets vs Jazz.
Does it get any better than this?