It was Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone’s 49th birthday on Tuesday, and earlier than Recreation 7 towards the LA Clippers, middle Nikola Jokic instructed his coach he had the right present in thoughts.
“Coach, I will get you an amazing current,” he instructed Malone earlier than the sport. “I am both going to get you residence or get you to the Western Convention finals.”
With a 104-89 win, making NBA historical past within the course of as the primary staff to return again twice in a single postseason from a 3-1 sequence deficit, Malone was completely satisfied to get the latter.
“So proud. All the blokes, by no means obtained down, believed in one another. Believed in themselves,” Malone stated. “In gentle of all of the noise outdoors this sequence that we had no likelihood. We have now individuals guaranteeing it. We discovered a technique to beat a extremely good staff 3 times. I’ve run out of issues to say.”
After getting back from 3-1 down within the opening spherical towards the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets needed to overcome three consecutive double-digit deficits towards the Clippers to win three straight video games and advance to the Western Convention finals. In keeping with Elias Sports activities Bureau analysis, the Nuggets are the primary staff in postseason historical past with three straight double-digit comeback wins when dealing with elimination.
“I feel that is our sixth straight elimination recreation. Seventy-one days within the bubble and simply to remain collectively, that dedication, that toughness is — you do not see that round fairly often,” Malone stated, not truly operating out of issues to say. “That speaks to the blokes within the locker room and the way a lot they love one another. Simply a tremendous feeling.”
Malone’s message following Recreation four was easy: concentrate on successful the subsequent recreation, and the subsequent recreation solely. It has grow to be a part of Denver’s DNA to be pushed up towards elimination, with a transparent consolation degree enjoying with their season on the road. The Nuggets’ previous 4 postseason sequence have gone seven video games (3-1 in these sequence), they usually’re now 6-Zero in elimination video games this postseason.
However Malone has spent the previous week reminding everybody — his staff included — that this is not some upstart bunch. The Nuggets completed second within the West final season in wins and had been the third seed this season.
“Our purpose was by no means to get to a Recreation 7,” Malone stated. “Our purpose after we began this entire season was to win a championship. As outrageous as which will sound to individuals outdoors of our group, we by no means overlooked that. We stored our perception in that.”
Because the Clippers’ stars struggled, 23-year-old guard Jamal Murray shined once more in a Recreation 7, scoring 40 factors on 15-of-26 taking pictures in 45 minutes. Jokic was dominant, posting a triple-double (16 factors, 22 rebounds, 13 assists), the second Recreation 7 triple-double of his profession, tying Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo as the one gamers to do it.
“We’re simply not accepting that someone’s higher than us,” Jokic stated.
The Nuggets embraced the chip on their shoulder, leaning into the nobody-believes-in-us mentality and relishing the chance to upend the assumed Battle of L.A. matchup between the Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers that so many predicted. Malone referred to his group because the “Dangerous Information Bears” and himself as Coach Buttermaker on Monday and hasn’t been shy about having fun with the function of spoiler.
It is a mindset his staff has taken on, protecting the critics, specialists and analysts on the entrance of their minds as they pushed again towards the Jazz, after which the Clippers.
“You bought [Shaquille O’Neal], you bought Charles [Barkley], I feel Zach Lowe … Stephen A. [Smith], all y’all higher begin giving this staff some rattling respect,” Murray stated. “As a result of we put within the work. We should not have been down 3-1, however to return again down 3-1 towards the Clippers is a giant achievement, so it is enjoyable simply to vary that narrative.”
Mentioned Jokic: “No one desires us right here. No one thinks we will do one thing. We show ourselves and proved everyone we will do one thing.”
Murray and Jokic dominated the ultimate three video games of the sequence, significantly late in video games because the Clippers wore down. For Murray, it was his third 40-point recreation when dealing with elimination this postseason, turning into the primary participant in NBA historical past to attain 40 or extra in three elimination video games in a single postseason, in line with analysis by Elias Sports activities Bureau.
“We have got lots of vitality, and we introduced it they usually did not match that,” Murray stated. “They obtained who they obtained. They have a gifted squad. They have Doc [Rivers], too. They have assistant coaches who’re about to be head coaches. We all know what they’ve, we simply outworked them a bit bit with our younger legs.”
The Nuggets transfer on to their first Western Convention finals look since 2009, when Carmelo Anthony led them right into a matchup with … the Lakers. For now, although, they are going to get pleasure from their upset of the Clippers earlier than getting ready for Recreation 1 towards the Lakers on Friday.
“Under no circumstances are we happy,” Malone stated. “However I feel it’s a must to rejoice the moments. That is one thing I discovered from my mother and father. It is a second, it is my birthday, and we will go celebration.
“Within the bubble,” he clarified with a smile. “Within the bubble.”
The Nuggets have endured a grueling bubble expertise, arriving in items as a number of gamers handled constructive coronavirus exams. They’ve battled accidents, getting gamers wholesome as they go. It is all fairly commonplace attrition stuff for Denver, a part of the identification Malone & Co. have solid the previous three seasons. They’ve performed 14 playoff video games in 28 days, and should prepare for a well-rested Lakers staff that hasn’t performed since Saturday.
Once more, the Nuggets shall be underdogs. And once more, they’re simply positive with it.
“They gotta fear about us, too,” Jokic stated.