History repeated itself, the Denver Nuggets, with Canadian point guard Jamal Murray and Serbian center Nikola Jokic, completed a two-way comeback and qualified for the Western Conference finals on Tuesday after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 104-89 in the decisive seventh game to win the series 4-3 to the best of seven.
Their opponents in the finals will be the Los Angeles Lakers, from star forward LeBron James, who beat the Houston Rockets 4-1 in the other semi-final round.
The Nuggets, who will be playing in their first finals since 2009, had Murray as the great figure who contributed 40 points, after scoring 15 out of 26 field shots, including 6 out of 13 triple attempts, and destroying the Clippers’ defense, which for the eighth time (8-0) is left without a win in a decisive elimination game.
Along with Murray, who also gave up five assists and captured four rebounds, Jokic made his presence felt in inside play and also outperformed the Clippers’ markers.
Jokic was once again the most complete player in the game, scoring a triple-double with 16 points, 22 rebounds -19 defensive-, 13 assists, recovering two balls and putting up three blocks in 40 minutes of action.
The Serbian international center set the best team record in playoff games with 22 rebounds and broke his own record set last year, which he shared with former center Marcus Camby (19).
Starting power forward Jerami Grant and forward Gary Harris each had 14 points and completed the list of the four starting Nuggets players who finished the game with two-digit numbers.
The four allowed the Nuggets to come from behind again and overcome a 10-point deficit they had in the first half.
Denver became the first team in NBA history to recover from a 1-3 deficit in the series twice in the same postseason.
The Nuggets are also the third team in major U.S. professional sports to recover from a pair of 1-3 losses in the same playoffs, joining the 1985 Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball and the 2003 Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League (NHL).
In a familiar trend, the Nuggets found themselves at a 12-point disadvantage in the first half.
They also fell behind with a 54-61 split with 10:50 minutes left to play in the third period, which is when they finally came around and the Nuggets got a 35-13 run that allowed them to get a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, which increased to 20.
Murray helped the Nuggets move on to give Coach Michael Malone a 49th birthday present.
The team also recovered from double-digit number margins in their last two games to surprise the Clippers.
Despite the addition of star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers did not reach the conference finals, where they have never been in their entire history.
They also have a 0-8 record in games that could secure a trip to the conference finals.
Leonard finished with 14 points in 6 out of 22 shots, including 2 out of 7 three-pointers, captured six rebounds and gave away six assists, but couldn’t be a winning factor.
The same thing happened to George, who had to settle for just 10 points, after missing 4 of 16 field shots, including 2 of 11 from outside the perimeter.
Reserve center Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers with 20 points and three rebounds.
Jokic insisted that the Nuggets, third-seeded, feel no pressure.
The European player reiterated that the seventh game for them was just another normal match that they should go out on the field and win.
After all, this was Denver’s fourth straight seventh game since last season’s playoffs.
After trailing by as many as 12 in the first half, the Nuggets made their way back into the game behind Murray’s effective shooting, who scored 25 goals before halftime when the Clippers chose to form a double-defensive team to score against Jokic.
Then the story was very different because Jokic was able to score more goals and above all dominate the rest of the game to the Clippers’ markers, who were unable to control their entire basketball that made a comeback possible and deserved to reach a Western Conference finals.