There were no offensive fireworks on Tuesday.
There was a thrilling finish regardless.
After six games marked by historic output from Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell, the Denver Nuggets ground out a Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The 80-78 victory resembled a 90s playoff slugfest more than the high-octane bubble-ball that had come to define this series.
Murray didn’t approach a third 50-point game of the series. He didn’t need to as Denver thwarted a second-half rally from Utah after blowing a 14-point halftime lead. With Utah’s defense focused on slowing Murray, the Nuggets looked instead to their All-NBA center down the stretch.
Nikla Jokic plays hero for Nuggets
With the game tied at 78, Nikola Jokic leaned on his trademark footwork and floated a high-arcing hook shot over Rudy Gobert for the go-ahead bucket with 27.8 seconds remaining.
Mike Conley’s game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer rattled off the rim to ensure that Denver would advance after digging a 3-1 hole to start the series.
Jokic finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds and was the only consistent offensive threat for Denver while hitting 12-of-23 shots from the field. Murray and Mitchell both cooled down considerably from their historic pace after each posted a pair of 50-point games earlier in the series. Neither team shot better than 38 percent from the field.
Murray finished with 17 points on 7-of-21 shooting from the field while connecting on just 1-of-6 3-point attempts. But he came up with big plays down the stretch, hitting a pair of contested buckets in the final three minutes and coming up with a loose ball on what looked like a game-clinching steal by Gary Harris.
Frantic finish comes up short for Utah
Harris knocked the ball out of Mitchell’s hands with 8.4 seconds remaining as Mitchell drove in an attempt to tie the game after Jokic’s go-ahead bucket. Murray gathered the ball and led a fast break rather than hold it to force a foul.
Torrey Craig missed the transition layup, breathing new life into the Jazz. Conley got a good look from 3-point distance on the ensuing possession, but it rimmed out as the Nuggets completed an unlikely rally to win the series.
Mitchell kept Jazz alive
The frantic finish wouldn’t have been necessary without second-half heroics from Mitchell. The Jazz guard struggled in the first half with seven points and five turnovers as Denver took a 50-36 lead into the break. But he scored nine straight Utah points to start the third quarter to spark a rally that saw Utah eventually take a a 66-65 led early in the fourth quarter.
From then on, the game was back and forth down to Conley’s final missed shot.
Mitchell finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and nine turnovers. He fell to the floor as Conley’s shot rimmed out before meeting Murray to embrace after their historic duel.
Gobert had a monster game in the post, tallying 19 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in the losing effort.
The Nuggets advance to take on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals. The Jazz will leave the bubble wondering what might have been after blowing a 3-1 lead.
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