For the third consecutive playoff series the Denver Nuggets are staring down a winner-take-all Game 7. Last season the Nuggets went 1-1 in Game 7s, defeating the San Antonio Spurs in round one before being ousted by the Portland Trail Blazers. Now, after falling into a 3-1 hole to the Utah Jazz, Denver will look to become just the 12th team ever to overcome that deficit, the last being the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals.
This series has been a wild ride with unexpected turns and emotions. No one really foresaw that both Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell would elevate from star to superstar status in the span of six games. No one expected the Nuggets to get blown out in Game 2, completely collapse in Game 3, go down 3-1 and then climb back in it so convincingly.
None of that matters anymore. Denver has momentum but it’s an even slate. What’s left is two teams fighting for 48 minutes for the right to stay in Orlando and take on the Los Angeles Clippers. Loser goes home.
Who: Utah Jazz (3-3) at Denver Nuggets (3-3)
When: 6:30 PM MDT
Where: The Bubble, Orlando, FL.
How to watch/listen: ABC
|PG||Monte Morris||Mike Conley|
|SG||Jamal Murray||Donovan Mitchell|
|SF||Jerami Grant||Joe Ingles|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Royce O'Neale|
|C||Nikola Jokic||Rudy Gobert|
|Bench||Michael Porter Jr., Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Mason Plumlee||Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang, Juwan Morgan, Tony Bradley|
Three Questions Heading into Game 7
Can Jamal Murray carry the Nuggets one more time? Murray had an interesting quote postgame on Sunday after scoring 50 for the second time in three games: “People want me to be consistent. And I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. That’s why the greats are so good because they don’t just do it one night. They do it every night.”
Up until this series consistency has probably been the biggest knock on his game. Throw that out the window. This isn’t Linsanity. We are watching the greatest playoff performance in Denver Nuggets history. 50 points, 42 points, and 50 points in the past three games. It’s hard to ask him to do any more than he already has at this point but still... there’s no way Murray doesn’t show up for the biggest game of the series, right?
Who else will step up alongside Murray? Utah’s game plan will most certainly revolve around slowing down Murray and trying to make literally anyone else beat them. The Nuggets have to be ready for this, but fortunately the last two games have seen some big contributions from other players. In Game 5, it was Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier who came in and provided the defensive energy that won the game. In Game 6, Jerami Grant went 4-7 from three and scored 18 points, while Gary Harris bottled up the pesky Jordan Clarkson. Nikola Jokic has quietly been amazing this postseason, especially when he can drain the threes that Gobert so willingly gives him (he’s shooting 48% from deep). If Utah doubles Murray, that just leaves more room for Jokic to play with. Take your pick of who else can contribute - Grant, Harris, Porter, Morris. At least one needs to have a big game.
Will Denver’s rotation change? Denver’s new starting lineup of Morris/Murray/Grant/Millsap/Joker hasn’t been good. It brandishes a sheepish net rating of -22.4 in this series and at this point guarantees a Utah lead in the first quarter. On the contrary, the closing lineup of the past two games of Murray/Grant/Porter/Jokic plus either Dozier or Craig has been excellent. That four-man group has a net rating of 32.3 in 62 minutes played and has completely disrupted Utah when Jokic isn’t dropping on the pick and roll.
This is not intended to be slander towards Paul Millsap, but he is the common denominator. If the Nuggets want to maximize their chances of winning Game 7 then Millsap cannot get the kind of minutes he played in Game 6, especially as a starter. Is there any coincidence that Denver’s comeback in Game 5 was without him on the court? Or that the only times Murray really heated up in Game 6 was also without Millsap playing? On Sunday, Murray scored just nine of his 50 points while sharing the floor with Millsap. Denver was -9 in that span.
It is night and day having Michael Porter Jr. out there instead as the Jazz actually have to respect MPJ’s shot, unlike Millsap’s. This alone has unlocked the door for Murray and co. to flourish. With Gary Harris back and off the injury report for good, there’s no reason for Millsap to hang around as dead weight. All due respect to Millsap and the veteran presence he has brought this team, if I were Malone, I would ride Murray/Harris/Grant/Porter/Jokic to the second round. Utah has no answer for that lineup.
How many points will Jamal Murray score tonight?
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