A little over a year ago, the Denver Nuggets suffered heartbreak on the final day of the NBA season. They lost a final day play-in game to the Minnesota Timberwolves and missed out on the playoffs. This young group rebounded with a brilliant regular season this year to grab the second seed in the Western Conference. Often times, teams built on youth can struggle as the pressure mounts and the postseason begins. After losing six of their last eleven regular season games, some feared this team was still not quite on the level of other Western Conference contenders. The Nuggets’ playoff credentials came into question despite their excellent regular season. They have answered those questions, and are now one win away from the Conference Finals.
The Denver Nuggets’ Playoff Credentials No Longer in Question
Denver Nuggets’ Playoff Credentials Getting Verified
Denver has been playing exciting basketball all season with a young core built around center Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Their speed, shooting, and depth carried them up the standings. However, it is not uncommon for young teams to struggle when they get their first taste of the postseason. In the NBA playoffs, the intensity and focus raise to new levels. With only one key contributor, veteran forward Paul Millsap, having played in the playoffs before, the questions was there to be answered. This team has been emphatic in their response.
Right Into the Fire
The Nuggets’ playoff path had an immediate roadblock in the form of the San Antonio Spurs. For a young team getting their first taste of the postseason, a match-up with the perennial playoff participants was not ideal. The veteran Spurs took games one and three and seemingly had control of the series. Denver bounced back to win games four and five but were still pushed to the brink after San Antonio dominated game six at home. Most of this team had never been in the postseason, and now they faced a game seven in their first playoffs. Thanks to Murray and Jokic, they survived to advance to the second round.
Stars are made during the postseason, and Denver’s two best players are making sure their presence is felt. Jokic has developed into one of the best big men in the NBA. He was even brought up in the MVP conversation at times as he led his team to a 54-28 record. The big Serbian has raised his game to a higher level in the postseason. He has four triple-doubles during the Nuggets’ playoff run. His passing ability sets him apart from most other big men, but he also has one of the most diverse post games in the league. He has a rare combination of footwork, power, and touch that make him a nightmare to defend. Jokic has dominated in the second round against the Portland Trailblazers, averaging 26.8 points, 14 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game over six games.
While Jokic has impacted all aspects of the game from the post, Murray has been making his mark on the perimeter. The third-year guard has stepped up in a big way in his first taste of the postseason. He had back to back 30 point games in this round against Portland and has averaged 21 points a night in the playoffs. Murray is not the prototypical point guard but fits perfectly for the Nuggets. They run a lot of their offense through Jokic, due to his passing ability and versatile scoring range. This allows Murray to play off the ball and hunt his shots. The two have a dynamic chemistry. Their two-man game has been excellent in the postseason.
Millsap came to the Denver on a big contract with ideas that he would be the centerpiece of the team. Injuries have derailed that plan, but the 13-year veteran is still a major key to the Nuggets’ success. He is the old man on this young team, and they have leaned on his steadiness and leadership so far in the playoffs. Millsap has been a mismatch that the Trailblazers have struggled to handle in the second round. He is averaging 18.6 points per game in the series. His experience and presence will be important for this young group if they want to win yet another game seven and make it to the Conference Finals.
Nuggets’ Playoff Fate; Win or Go Home
One game to extend the season; the Nuggets’ playoff fate will now come down to game seven for the second straight round. All that hard work in the regular season will once again pay dividends as Denver will host this pivotal contest. The energy of the home crowd should help some of the supporting cast contribute more. Will Barton, Mason Plumlee, and Malik Beasley combined for just 13 points off the bench in the game six loss. The Nuggets are also due a big game from Gary Harris, who hasn’t scored over 16 points since game two of the first round. This young team has already proven they have what it takes to compete and survive in the grind of the NBA playoffs. The question now becomes, can they survive another game seven, and reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010?
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 5: Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets flexes after making a difficult layup over Jaylen Brown (7) of the Boston Celtics during the second half of the Nuggets’ 115-107 win on Monday, November 5, 2018. Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets had a game and career high 48 points. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)