Denver Nuggets advance to Western Conference finals

The Denver Nuggets did it again.

Coach Mike Malone’s club overcame a 3-1 deficit in its second consecutive playoff series, handing the Los Angeles Clippers a 104-89 defeat on Tuesday in the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals.

As a result, the Nuggets advance to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference finals in Florida. Game 1 is on Friday.

Jamal Murray poured in 40 points, including six 3-pointers, and Denver big man Nikola Jokic had a monster performance (16 points, 22 rebounds, 13 assists) on Malone’s joyful 49th birthday.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets rallied from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Utah Jazz. Now, they’ve become the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in the same postseason.

“Those guys stepped up on the biggest moment,” Malone commented after the game. “You find out a lot about people in these moments. Man, did we pass the character test or what?”

In other playoff action on Tuesday, the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 117-114 in overtime Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Big first half for Murray

Denver Nuggets star guard Murray scored 25 points in the opening half, but his team entered the third period trailing 56-54. He finished the game with 15-for-26 shooting.

Turning point in series for Denver Nuggets

Reflecting on the team’s latest achievement, Murray reporters that a Game 3 loss was an eye-opening experience for the Denver Nuggets.

“I think we saw it in Game 3,” Murray was quoted as saying by the Denver Post. “When we dropped that game, it was self-inflicted. I think they realized how good we were.”

In Game 6, the Denver Nuggets needed a spirited comeback to force a Game 7.

Then, in Game 7, Murray and company responded by outplaying the Clippers in key moments of the second half before turning it into a rout.

Denver outscored Los Angeles 50-33 in the second half.

Clippers’ woes

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard didn’t have a great game, which his team apparently needed in order to hold off the Nuggets. Leonard was held to 14 points on 6-for-22 shooting.

What’s more, Paul George finished with 10 points. George missed 12 of 16 shots from the floor, and lamented the outcome afterward.

Said George, according to published reports: “It hurts. It hurts. But we move on. Year 1 together, first run together, of course we wanted to win this. But we’ve been very optimistic about us being together and building something going down the road.”

Leonard finished with 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting, while George had 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

Key number

As The Associated Press reported, the Clippers are now 0-8 in games where a win would’ve sent them to the conference finals.

Team chemistry

“Honestly, you could just see the difference in the two teams,” Rivers observed in the post-game news conference. “That team’s been together. We haven’t. And you could see it as the games went on.”

A tribute to the Denver Nuggets

Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla summed up the dynamic duo of Jokic and Murray this way in the aftermath of Game 7: “In a league ruled by dynamic duos since the days of Magic and Kareem, the NBA’s new power couple are two guys who aren’t household names in most of America, but are beloved in the Rocky Mountains as Joker and Jamal.”

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