Is the Denver Nuggets Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers as big of an upset as we’re making it? Or is this right on par with where they should be?
Last season, the Nuggets finished second in the treacherous Western Conference, yet no one expected them to make it to the conference finals, and they didn’t. This season, they finished third but were back-and-forth with the Clippers for the second seed. It wasn’t until the bubble that the Clippers took full command of the second spot, but for some reason, the focus is on how the Clippers chocked against the Nuggets in Game 7.
It’s clear how bad the Clippers played. It’s clear that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George fell significantly short of expectations, but at the same time, the Nuggets are right on par with where they should be as a team right now. Two seasons being a top-three team in the West justifies a WCF appearance. This year, they just went through the title favorites to get there.
Denver reminds me of Oklahoma City from the 2011-12 season. They blew through the Dallas Mavericks, defeated Kobe Bryant in the last playoff appearance of his career, rattled off four-straight wins after falling 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the WCF, and made it to the Finals against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat.
Denver has two budding superstars: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. They also have a young, deep, and talented supporting cast: Michael Porter Jr., Torrey Craig, Monte Morris, and Jerami Grant. They also have a very serviceable veteran in Paul Millsap. This team reminds me of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who were surrounded by James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Jeff Green.
You can see greatness in their future, and this is the start of that great future. Denver may not win the NBA title this season, and they may not even make it to the Finals this season, but it’s clear that their future is bright. Hopefully, though, Calvin Booth doesn’t fumble the bag like Sam Presti did with the team that he had.
Some moves are unavoidable for Booth. That’s part of professional sports, but Murray and Jokic aren’t in their prime yet. While Murray has had some incredibly impressive showings with five games of 35 or more points in these playoffs, he’s also had six games where he’s scored less than 20. The kid needs to be more consistent, but the kid…is a kid. He’s just 23 years old. The odds are clearly in his favor. The same goes for Jokic, who in my opinion, is already a superstar. In these playoffs, he’s averaged 35.3 PPG, 6 APG, and 10.7 RPG. Jokic also had a triple-double in Game 7 against the Clippers, while Jamal Murray hit 40.
While the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead and failed to live up to expectations, don’t take away what the Nuggets have done. They aren’t in the WCF because they got lucky in two straight series. They are there because this team is talented and can turn on a switch when their backs are against the wall. The Nuggets are enjoyable to watch, and hopefully, they can keep their core together.
…On another note. Lakers in 6.