Last Sunday, the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Utah Jazz 119-107 to pull even in their best-of-7 series 3-all. This means an exciting winner-take-all 7th game will happen this Tuesday to determine who gets rewarded with a coveted seat to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
This has been a thrilling series, with both teams relying much on offensive streaks to win hard-fought games. After winning Game 1 in overtime, the Denver Nuggets suddenly found themselves facing elimination, losing 3 straight games, 2 by lopsided scores that would have destroyed the morale of other ordinary teams. The Jazz capitalized on a silky smooth pick-and-roll play with Donovan Mitchell parlaying these into points from inside and out. With Mitchell’s Jordanesque performance scoring north of 50 points twice, it seemed that the season would be over soon for the Nuggets.
But the gutsy Nuggets fought back. With their backs against the wall, the Nuggets clawed back with Jamal Murray taking the lead role. Murray would fight fire with fire, matching Mitchell’s acrobatic shots with his own 3-point bombs that were hitting with uncanny accuracy. Mitchell and Murray would become the first opponents in NBA playoff history to score 50-plus points in the same game. Jamal would eventually hit 50 a second time, making it a first-ever series with 2 opposing stars collecting twin 50-point performances each.
The Jazz boast of a better scoring support cast with Michael Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles capable of lighting it up as well. On the other hand, it is only Nicola Jokic who has been providing steady scoring support for the Nuggets. However, in Game 6, it was the surprise appearance (for the first time in 6 months) of erstwhile injured Jerami Grant that clearly created a big boost as he scored 18 valuable points, totally derailing the Jazz’ defensive alignment. Without the element of surprise now, Denver – as well as Utah – are expected to work on improving their defenses against the M & M offensives, and the secondary attacks in the event their M offensive misfires.
The Nuggets have the better record, hence they hold homecourt advantage. This would have been a clear advantage if the games were played in Denver’s altitude-enhanced environment. Unfortunately, that advantage was negated when the NBA Restart was confined to the Bubble in Orlando.
The Jazz are a man short, with starting small forward Bojan Bogdanovic in the injured list. The Nuggets on the other hand are only now starting to renew acquaintances; with starters Murray, Gary Harris, and Jerami Grant all on the injured list at the start of the games in the Bubble. Fortunately for the Nuggets, Michael Porter Jr has been quick to develop, providing the team the needed scoring in the absence of the 3.
Thus, the series’ deciding game will be a must-see for armchair coaches and fans alike. Have the Nuggets really found an answer to the Mitchell-Gobert pick-and-roll play? If the Nuggets’ defense collapses on the Mitchell drive, how will they defend against the secondary hitters from outside? How will the Jazz clamp down Murray’s bombing forays? If the Jazz succeed in stopping Jamal, who among the Nugget gunners will take secondary? Are the Jazz now better prepared for these secondary options? I expect both coaching staff to device ways to stop Mitchell and Murray. That said, the secondary line will play a very significant role in this crucial match-up. Whichever supporting cast appears front and center will be the team that goes to the next round.
Cover photo courtesy of Denver Stiffs. Other photos courtesy of Denver Stiffs, ClutchPoints, Essentially Sports, Deseret News, AL.com, Scorum, KUTV. For a closer look, just click on the pics.