The dust still settles from a truly mind-blowing playoff result. The Denver Nuggets came back 3-1 for the second time in the playoffs, wiping out double-digit deficits in each of the last three games against an opponent many considered one of the most talented title favorites in the game. league.
According to the unpredictable probability of winning model in the game, the Nuggets’ chances of advancement fell to 0.2% at their lowest point in Game 5, then to 0.4% in Game 6 and to 8, 1% during game 7. Yet they came back once and twice. , and a third time, and now they’re in the franchise’s first conference finals since 2009. The poor Clippers still haven’t made a conference finals appearance in franchise history.
From the Clippers’ point of view, the result is a calamity, not ifs, and or buts. But for Denver, the team’s play since falling behind Utah in the first round, most ignominiously via a 124-87 shell in Game 3, reflects its promise for both the rest. of these playoffs and for the future. The Nuggets have two transcendent young stars and an aspiring supporting cast; here are the three pillars of their return.
Jamal Murray, pending superstar
Murray scored 40 points in Game 7, including 20 in a second quarter that saw the fourth-year keeper beat the Clippers 11-4 on his own in the dying minutes before halftime. Added to his trio of scoreboard blasts against Utah – 50 points in Game 4, 42 in Game 5, 50 in Game 6 – this Game 7 shows Murray moving through rarefied territory.
Murray now has four playoff games with over 40 points. Only 12 other players made it in a single playoff series; they’re all already in the Hall of Fame or LeBron James:
- Elgin Baylor en 1961
- Want Chamberlain and 1962
- Jerry West in 1965 and 1969
- Rick Barry and 1967
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar en 1977
- Bernard King in 1984
- Michael Jordan in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993
- Hakeem Olajuwon and 1995
- Shaquille O’Neal in 2000
- Allen Iverson in 2001
- Kobe Bryant in 2009
- LeBron James in 2009 and 2018
- Jamal Murray in 2020
And while some of the inconsistency that plagued Murray in the 2019 playoffs has always been evident, his ceiling and floor have risen since then – and also since this regular season. Murray has averaged 18.5 points per game this regular season, and he’s up to 27.1 so far in the playoffs, giving him one of the biggest scoring increases in Canadian history. playoffs. To appear on any roster near Baylor, West, King and Abdul-Jabbar – and playoff legend Glen “Big Baby” Davis – is quite an achievement.
Best points improvement per game in the playoffs (min. 10 games)
Now Murray is gearing up for a game against a strong Lakers defensive team who still struggle to contain top-level guards. He may well add to his totals soon.
Nikola Jokic, already superstar
At full strength, the Clippers should have formed a frenzied defense – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, and others switching and sliding through holes and blocking offensive systems with their speed and reach. They never reached that level, partly because of communication issues and a lack of cohesion, and also partly because Jokic completely dismantled all the blankets that were offered to him.
By the end of the third quarter of Game 7, Jokic had already registered a triple-double; he finished with an all-time stat line of 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists. The Clippers continued to send doubles teams to perhaps the best player in league history, and he continued to find the open man and use feints and sleight of hand to fold rotations. defensive where he wanted. He was the best player in a series with Leonard, two-time MVP of the final, and not by a small margin either.
While Murray scores with the greats, Jokic has equally rare multi-category contributions. Here is the full list of players averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game in a playoff campaign (minimum 10 games):
- Oscar Robertson in 1963 (32, 13 and 9)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar en 1972 (29, 18 et 5)
- Larry Bird in 1984 (27, 11 and 6)
- Charles Barkley in 1986 (25, 16 and 6)
- Bird in 1987 (27, 10 and 7)
- LeBron James in 2015 (30, 11 and 8)
- Blake Griffin in 2015 (26, 13 and 6)
- Nikola Jokic in 2019 (25, 13 and 8)
- Jokic in 2020 (25, 11 and 6)
- James in 2020 (27, 10 and 9)
Jokic is one of three players, along with James and Bird, to accomplish this feat twice, and one of seven players to have accomplished it. He is also only in his second playoff series and 25 years old. His teammate Murray is just 23 years old.
Quick defensive upgrades
Even beyond the breakouts on offense, the Nuggets broke out against the Jazz and the Clippers because of their play at the other end of the field. They started from the lowest point imaginable. Across four games against the Jazz, the Nuggets allowed 131.1 points per 100 possessions; for reference, it’s 15 more points than the Mavericks, who delivered the most effective offense in league history, have scored this season.
But in the 10 games since falling 3-1 to the Jazz, Denver’s defensive rating is much more respectable at 107.1 – a rating that would have placed fifth or sixth in the regular season. And much of that performance came against the Clippers, who boasted of the second-best offense of the regular season and set Dallas on fire in the first round.
Part of this improvement comes from a change in key personnel. Early against Utah, Denver clearly missed out on injured Gary Harris and Will Barton, who placed first and third respectively on the team in defensive strength this season, according to Five thirty-eightRAPTOR metric. Barton is still out, but Harris returned in Game 6 against Utah. Individual defensive odds are a boisterous statistic, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Nuggets in the playoffs allowed just 106.3 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the field, compared to 117.0 with him.
Harris’ return helped in two ways. First, he added another capable defenseman to the rotation, meaning that with Harris, Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig, the Nuggets could still play at least three reliable defenders who don’t need the balloon around Jokic and Murray. And the domino effect that ensued meant that Michael Porter Jr. could come off the bench and play more of his minutes against inferior opponents, allowing him to score without giving up so many buckets to Leonard and George on the other end. .
Some of the Clippers’ offensive ailments were of their own accord. Denver missed a few rotations; the Clippers responded by usefully missing open plans. No defensive intensity can explain that in Games 5, 6 and 7, the Nuggets dominated the Clippers 181-117 in the second half; that’s an average margin of 60-39.
But player by player, the Nuggets starters held their ground against a more talented Clippers unit. Grant, for example, was Leonard’s main defenseman in the series, and when they clashed, Leonard shot just nine free throws against 59 field goals. That’s a 15 percent free throw rate; For reference, Leonard’s free throw rate was 35% in the regular season, 42% against the Mavericks in the first round, and 44% in the playoffs. In Game 7, Leonard didn’t shoot a single free throw or, in the fourth quarter, didn’t score any runs.
It remains to be seen whether the Nuggets’ star power and their new defensive goal can propel them into another round, against another favorite opponent. The Lakers are better rested, with two brighter stars and more playoff experience; Our restart odds think the Lakers are 75% of the favorites to advance to the final. But Denver has already overcome much stronger odds twice in the playoffs; What’s another problem for a team in this kind of exhilarating race? And if the Lakers take control of the series early and take a 3-1 lead, well, then the Nuggets will get them exactly where they want them.