Game 7 was far from a shootout between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell that everyone had hoped for. Instead, what was a convincing halftime lead imploded and turned into a near slog in the trenches between Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. In the end, Denver barely, barely, barely held on as a boneheaded blown layup nearly cost the Nuggets the series when Mike Conley missed a game winning three as time expired. Final score: Nuggets 80, Jazz 78.
Malone ran with the same starting lineup to surprising results... Jokic facilitated the offense and got everyone involved early as Denver took a lead and never looked back in the first half. Utah had no answer for the well-rounded attack. Trap Murray and it’s an easy bucket for someone else. Stay straight up and ball movement usually led to an open shot. Michael Porter Jr. was huge off the bench in the first half, putting up 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds alone.
On the other end, the Nuggets adjusted with a high hedge on Donovan Mitchell and boy he couldn’t get anything going. Up until the last few minutes of the first half Mitchell only had two points. Other Jazz players scored in spurts but it wasn’t nearly enough. Denver led 50-36 at the break.
The third quarter was an entirely different story. Mitchell came out guns slinging as he single-handedly brought Utah back into the game by scoring 13 points in the frame. Meanwhile Denver’s well ran completely dry as no one could get anything going. Jokic kept the lead alive with some long jumpers but as a whole only 15 points in the quarter was a miserable effort for Denver. To top it off, Joker picked up his fourth foul sending him to the bench.
After six games and three-quarters of lights out basketball both teams hit a wall in the fourth. Everything bogged down on both sides. Gobert was impactful on both ends of the floor by disrupting anything in the paint, and it sure seemed like every jumper by Denver was short. Gobert’s strong play offensively coupled with Jokic foul trouble gave the Jazz the lead late.
It wasn’t over - Jamal Murray found some life with four quick points after going completely MIA following a shot to the thigh by Joe Ingles in the second quarter, Those were his only points of the half but they were huge. With the game tied, Nikola Jokic took it to Gobert in the post and flipped it in for the final buckets of the game. Utah had a chance multiple times in their final possession but stiff defense enabled Gary Harris to poke the ball away from Mitchell.
Instead of dribbling out the clock or waiting to get fouled, Murray drove to the basketball and passed it to Torrey Craig who blew the layup with less than five seconds remaining. Thankfully, Mike Conley’s three attempt rolled out and Denver hung on.
It was an ugly game, but a great series. Jamal Murray came back down to earth after carrying Denver through Games 5 and 6. He finished with only 17 points and was 1-6 from deep. This time around it was Jokic who stepped up like he has all series, putting up 30 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to lead all scorers.
Gobert was monstrous for the Jazz in the second half, finishing with 19 points and 18 rebounds. Donovan Mitchell heated up in the third quarter but even he looked mortal. Mitchell had 22 to lead the Jazz.
The Nuggets will face Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in round two starting Thursday.