The Denver Nuggets have, for the second time this postseason, managed to get a series to Game 7 despite being down 3-1.
Showing why Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are likely on the same level in a pecking order, Murray was the team’s superhero in the first round while Jokic has been Denver’s most dynamic player in the semi-finals. This year’s playoff performances aren’t about the individual performances of the Nuggets’ players as much as the collective identity of the team.
Truthfully, Denver wasn’t initially seen as underdogs against the Utah Jazz. They were seen as underdogs against the Los Angeles Clippers though, a team that many projected as Western Conference favorites after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George decided to join forces last offseason.
While two consecutive series going to Game 7 (for the second postseason in a row, at that) is far from ideal, it says a great deal about the resolve of the Nuggets. This team has proven, in a way that seems to have never been proven before, that they’re not a team that’s going to roll over and accept defeat. Whether it’s Murray discussing how he didn’t want to leave the bubble in the first round as Denver defeated Utah, head coach Michael Malone talking about his team’s resilience, or their ability to follow Jokic’s lead in clutch moments, basketball fans now know that Denver is a team that prides itself on their unwillingness to quit.
Whether or not the Nuggets manage to pull off a win against the Clippers in Game 7, Denver has plenty to be proud of — both as a team and individuals. This is Denver’s most difficult playoff matchup to date, and while they could have gone quietly into the night and no one would have batted an eye, they instead forced a Game 7. Nikola Jokic continues to prove he’s a superstar. Jamal Murray has jumped to All-Star caliber in these playoffs as well.
This team has not just overcome daunting deficits, but also injuries to starters, criticism levied at prominent players, and distractions caused by off-court snafus. They’re a team that’s clearly one piece away from being a perennial Conference Finals — perhaps even, a perennial NBA Finals — contender. Perhaps they’re even closer than we realized.
Even though Denver will have important decisions to make regarding the impending free agencies of Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig, there’s great reason to believe in the evolution of the Nuggets. A team that doesn’t need to make some blockbuster trade as much as they need to simply stay the course and maximize the abilities of the players they already have on the roster.
Of course, any Nuggets fan will want Denver to win in Game 7. However, the Nuggets can be proud of themselves — and fans can be proud of them — win or lose.
No matter what, the future is very bright.