The Denver Nuggets' unbelievable blueprint built something special.
With the 104-89 Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and advance multiple times in the same postseason.
As unorthodox as it may be, the blueprint for the last three games against the Clippers follows as such: hang around early, fall behind by double-digits midway through the game before getting hot from 3-point range in the second half and pulling away late behind a strong defensive effort.
“That’s a common thread here in both come-from-behind series wins - Utah and now the Clippers,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought our defense the last three games was just incredible. We have a special group.”
After trailing by 16 and 19 points in Games 5 and 6, respectively, the Nuggets made it a bit easier for Malone on his birthday, trailing only by 12 in the second quarter before cutting the Clippers’ lead to two by halftime.
Jamal Murray carried Denver’s scoring load, finishing with a game-high 40 points on 15 of 26 shooting. Murray scored 20 of his points in the pivotal second quarter.
“I think that was the key to the game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They came out in that second quarter and were pulling away from us. They gave us a knockout punch. We’re we going to get off the mat or are we just going to stay down and kind of let that game slip away? I think we showed the heart of a champion, the heart of a fighter, and Jamal had a lot to do with that.”
Nikola Jokic scored 16 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and dished out 13 assists for Denver, his first triple-double of the series.
“He’s been amazing. He’s been incredible, and you just saw another performance from him tonight,” Murray said.
The Clippers star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George shot a combined 10 of 38 from the field. Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers with 20 points, while Leonard added 14.
A series of 3-pointers from Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap helped the Nuggets to an eight-point advantage to start the fourth, and Denver led by as much as 20 in the final quarter.
“We’re going to celebrate this win tonight. By no means are we satisfied, but I think you have to celebrate the moments. That’s something I learned from my parents. This is a moment,” Malone said. “It’s my birthday, and we’re going to go party … in the bubble.”
Before the game, the man they call Joker shared his gift ideas with his coach who hasn’t seen his family since entering the bubble roughly 70 days ago.
“Before the game, I told him, ‘Coach, I’m going to give you a really good present. I’m going to get you home, or I’m going to get you to the Western Conference Finals.’”
The Western Conference Finals it is, and the Nuggets will face the Los Angeles Lakers in a series scheduled to start Friday. Malone previously coached Lakers star LeBron James as an assistant in Cleveland. As good as James and co-star Anthony Davis are, the last couple of weeks have given Malone reason to believe, even if he prefers they leave that blueprint in the past.
“I do know this, our guys are up for the challenge,” Malone said.