Wow. Just wow.
The Denver Nuggets upset the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. The Nuggets came back from being down 3-1 to punch their ticket to the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets will now prepare for a date with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers - the Clippers are on a date with the sea, because they've gone fishing.
- Give Denver its flowers
The Nuggets have won six consecutive elimination games. They trailed 3-1 before coming back and winning the first-round series against the Utah Jazz. They trailed 3-1 again before coming back from double-digit deficits in each of their last three games against the Clippers in the second round.
It's the two-headed Nuggets monster, for me. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are one of the best duos in the NBA.
Murray has proven to be a killer.
He out-shot Donovan Mitchell in the first round then scored 40 in Game 7 (making 15 of his 26 shots, six of his 13 triples and all four of his free throws) to bury the Clippers.
Jokic has proven to be a nightmare matchup, a point guard at the center position who sees plays before they materialize.
In Game 7, he finished with a triple-double - 16 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 assists - to go with three blocks and two steals. Across the playoffs as a whole, he's averaging 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
- What's next for the Clippers?
Firing Doc Rivers, that's what's next.
Yes, there's a shortage of Black head coaches in the NBA, but Rivers has lost eight Game 7s in his career as a head coach. It's by far the most Game 7 losses by any coach in NBA history, with no other coach owning more than five such losses.
Rivers is also the only coach in NBA history to blow three 3-1 series leads.
He blew the first such series lead in 2003 coaching Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic. The second happened in 2015, when the Lob City Clippers built a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets, only to be outscored by a total of 44 points over the final three games.
This loss has a much more deflating feeling. Those Rockets were the better team in 2015. These Clippers, on paper, are supposed to be the best team in basketball, led by a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, and a Hall of Fame-caliber coach who won a championship in 2008 in Boston.
As good as they were, the Clippers came up short.
The Clippers blew three consecutive double digit leads, never adjusted to the Nugget defense and ran an offense that showed little-to-no player movement. The Clippers moved the ball to the open man, yes, but that open man was never open for long - especially not in Game 7 - because he was stationery, allowing the defense to scramble and close out.
- What's next for Paul George?
Some serious soul-searching.
Paul George does not perform well under pressure. In fact, he only shot well in one game this series: Game 3, when he scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field.
George shot 4 of 16 for 10 points and five turnovers in Game 7 - his signature moment was an open corner 3 that careened off the side of the backboard.
"Playoff P" shot 2 of 11 from downtown. That is and never will be enough to get it done.
George said it was the bubble: After his shooting slump in the first round of the playoffs, "PG-2-for-13" said he was in a dark place, saw the team psychiatrist and felt better. We all gave him a pass. Struggling with mental health is nothing to joke about.
But once he used it as an excuse for his performance, then claimed he overcame the obstacle, George opened himself up to rapid fire in the instance his performance cost his team big.
This is rapid fire: Paul George sold the Clippers out. George shot 37% in Game 2, 40% in Game 4, 43% in Game 6 and a whopping 25% in Game 7.
The eye test and the numbers don't resoundingly agree often, but when they do, they can't be ignored. Paul George is a liability and the Clippers have a problem.
What a Western Conference final!
When asked about the upcoming Lakers matchup, Murray and Jokic agreed on this sentiment: The Nuggets can't get too focused on what the Lakers are going to do.
"They've gotta worry about us," Murray said.
That's the energy the Nuggets need to keep to have a chance.
LeBron James is gunning for championship No. 4 and Anthony Davis is one of the most skilled players at his position the NBA has ever seen. The rest of the Lakers roster is full of role players. Then they have two wild cards: Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo.
The Lakers could bully the young Nuggets into a quick series. Then again, the series against the Clippers was supposed to be quick work, too.
The Lakers best bet is going to be a flat-out sweep of the Nuggets in the conference finals - because if they take a 3-1 lead, well, Orlando bubble history says the Nuggets are coming back to win.
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