Leave it to 2020 to have history made during the NBA Playoffs. And what do you know? It was the Nuggets who did it!
The Nuggets became the first team in NBA playoff history to rally back from two 3-1 series deficits in one postseason. Now, I understand why its never been done before. Because it’s so darn hard!
But in the process of doing it, the Nuggets have accomplished something special in the history of Denver sports. I still rank the Rockies run in 2007, “Rocktober,” as the most improbable moment in Denver sports. That team was dead in the water. There was noth that indicated they were poised to go on the streak they did, winning 13 of their last 14 games then blowing through a play-in game and two rounds of playoffs before the joy ride ended in the World Series.
Sure, there have been other great runs in Denver sports history. The Broncos have won Super Bowls, but their back-to-back teams had already established themselves as being really good. While their playoff wins were tense – and in the case of the Super Bowl win over Green Bay, came as huge underdogs – there wasn’t the overwhelming adversity facing those teams like the Nuggets faced in six elimination games.
The Broncos of 2015 were a surprise, but they had established their dominating defense by season’s end and played hard fought but really solid playoff games. The Stanley Cup winning Avs teams were just All-Star and future Hall of Fame laden juggernauts.
This Nuggets team was dead in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Jazz. Jamal Murray’s “Sorry, not today, I refuse to lose” performance will possibly go down in Denver’s sports lore like Joe Namath’s guarantee. Then add in a complete reversal of a defense that had been an absolute joke during the first part of the series and you had the first improbable step.
That was just the appetizer, though. The comeback against the Clippers was even more surreal. Not just coming back from 3-1 down, but doing it by erasing three double-digit leads – again, a first ever in NBA playoff history.
I’ve tried to process how it was done. I believe it was a mixture of Murray’s fire and energy and refuse-to-lose mentality. I believe it was also due to Nikola Jokic’s “don’t worry, be happy” demeanor that was incredibly calming and created a team wide feeling of “Yeah, we got this.” Then add in a dash of Michael Malone’s fiery, stick out my chin, chip on our shoulder, we demand respect defiance and you’ve got a dangerous team that believes they can accomplish anything while playing for something bigger than themselves.
The most-telling part of the Nuggets’ Game7 clinching win over the Clippers wasn’t necessarily what the Nuggets did. For me, it was watching the demise of the Clippers. I’ve seen plenty of teams pack it in physically. I’ve seen plenty of teams just quit – knowing they’ve been whipped. This felt different.
It was like the Nuggets just stole L.A.’s will. The Clippers were still playing with effort, but it was like they had become zombies. Their eyes were vacant. The Nuggets just took their souls.
It was breathtaking to watch. Even when the Clippers led, it was like they knew what was coming and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.
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