Thoughts on the Denver Nuggets’ Game 7 Win, and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals
September 15th, 2020
by Alan Lu
We’ve just witnessed a wild set of NBA playoff games recently. Miami Heat’s All-Star center, Bam Adebayo blocked Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt to hold off the Boston Celtics to go up 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and we also saw the LA Clippers’ epic collapse and meltdown in Game 7, as the Denver Nuggets steamrolled past them to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
The Denver Nuggets played a tremendous game, as they earned a double-digit victory to win in Game 7 over the Los Angeles Clippers. Star guard Jamal Murray scored 40 points and made 6 threes in this game, as he scored early and often, and he poured on a barrage of points that ensured his team’s place in the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. Murray is a bonafide superstar in the making, and he’s pretty much been the MVP of the playoffs so far. He made sure that his team didn’t lose, and his teammates also helped do the heavy lifting by playing extremely well on both sides of the floor. They were also well-coached by head coach Mike Malone, who knew when to make substitutions, made sure the offense had great flow, and they didn’t give up many easy shots defensively.
Nikola Jokic also played really well in this game, and he notched a triple-double to help get Denver a big Game 7 victory. He made terrific passes to notch a wealth of assists, including one where he threw a jaw-dropping no-look, reverse overhead pass while he was facing away from the basket to set up a score for a teammate at the rim late in this contest, and he made a series of timely blocks, including one on Montrezl Harrell at the rim to prevent the Clippers from getting easy chances to score around the basket. Also, Denver Nuggets’ veteran forward, Paul Millsap really earned his money in the playoffs, as he really excelled at making three-point shots, and he made timely shots throughout this contest.
For the Clippers, they appeared to have hit their stride in the second quarter, but signs of a collapse seemed to have been impending despite that, as they really started allowed Jamal Murray and the Nuggets to cut into their late to close the first half. Murray was unstoppable in this game, but in the first half, Kawhi Leonard seemed to be keeping up by providing offense of his own, and the Clippers were getting out to run in transition, and were scoring on pick and roll plays that enabled Montrezl Harrell to score some easy buckets and to get going in that time frame.
In the second half, their offense really stilted, and suddenly, neither Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, nor any of their players could make shots or open threes against the Denver Nuggets. Leonard kept taking difficult, contested shots on isolation plays, and he had trouble making them. Clippers’ multi-All-Star forward, Paul George was missing wide-open corner threes, and very badly at that, he missed one that hit near the top of the backboard. There wasn’t much motion in the Clippers’ offense, and Denver also made sure that Leonard did not get any easy looks to score later on.
But more importantly though, Paul George was really, really bad in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets. Some of his misses on wide-open, three-point shots were so far off that his abysmal performance would make some people absolutely incredulous at the thought that this was from an NBA star player that had previously made 6 All-Star teams throughout his career. Definitely, George going 4 for 16 for 10 points, and Kawhi Leonard going 6 for 22 from the field to score 14 points wasn’t what they had in mind coming in to Game 7. Neither would be Marcus Morris‘ lackluster 7 point showing on just 2 of 9 shots made from the field, and he didn’t play well at all either in this game.
Some people will undoubtedly point to the Marcus Morris trade with the New York Knicks as the critical point of their season’s downfall when they traded away the very athletic forward, Maurice Harkless, who didn’t really put up amazing per-game numbers, but he played a solid team-oriented style and fit the 3 and D mold as a role player, and was a key member of Portland’s 2019 playoff run, and there have been multiple times throughout the playoffs where Marcus Morris got into unnecessary scuffles with his opponents. To that, I say, critics of that trade do have a fair point. Ultimately though, not only the Clippers lost, but they didn’t even show up to play in the second half, and their players and coaching staff has to take responsibility for that. The Clippers’ extreme offensive woes in Game 7 kind of makes me wonder why Kawhi didn’t try harder to recruit Jimmy Butler to join his Clippers’ team instead, as Butler is the much better and more complete all-around player when compared to Paul George, or if Kawhi should’ve stayed with the Toronto Raptors altogether.
The other players on the Clippers also missed plenty of wide-open threes. As the Clippers could not muster up much offense late in this game, the Denver Nuggets were able to steamroll past the Clippers due to Murray’s tremendous shooting and scoring ability, and also due to their team’s strong ball movement and motion offense.
The Denver Nuggets have become perhaps the most fun team to watch in all of the NBA playoffs. Sure, they may be the underdogs, but they are a talented team with a deep roster, and Mike Malone did a terrific job of coaching his team and making adjustments to help his team advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics was very fun to watch, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. Every time Boston appeared to run away with the lead, Miami would make some plays to stay in it, and no lead ever felt safe from either team during this match. Boston Celtics’ guard, Marcus Smart did a great job of knocking down threes and he played very good defense, and Jayson Tatum played well in regulation, but Miami Heat’s star guard, Goran Dragic did a tremendous job of getting into the lane to score, and he also knocked down a slew of jumpers to help his team on offense.
Miami Heat’s superstar forward, Jimmy Butler proved to be reliable as the go-to scorer down the stretch, and he was able to help Miami get big scores and free throws, while Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum were struggling to come up with consistent offense late in this game. Boston really seemed to stop running an offense late in regulation or in overtime, and I think it really stagnated them offensively. Late in this game, there were times where Kemba seemed to over-dribble, as he whittled down clock a lot, and it led him to a pump fake, where Jae Crowder recovered to successfully force a miss, and Kemba then dribbled in place for a long time before suddenly passing it off to Tatum nearly at the last second on another play, which led Boston to another missed shot.
Boston also really struggled when Daniel Theis fouled out in overtime, and they missed his interior presence on both ends of the floor. I really had my doubts about Boston going to the super-small lineup when they put Brad Wanamaker in for Theis, and I was wondering if they should’ve gone with either Grant Williams for defensive purposes or Robert Williams instead as a stand-in for Theis. I didn’t think Wanamaker should have been in the game at all, as Boston would be very undersized defensively, and he wouldn’t have provided a dynamic presence offensively, so that would allow Miami to key in on Walker, Smart, and Tatum to shut them down.
My doubts and fears about Boston’s super small-ball were confirmed, as they allowed Tyler Herro to get past Kemba to score on a quick backdoor cut, and the Celtics allowed Jae Crowder to score on a wide-open three due to Miami setting good screens and due to miscommunication on Boston’s part. The moment of the game was when Jayson Tatum drove the ball to try to score on a rim-rattling dunk, only to be met at the rim as he had his shot swatted away by Miami’s All-Star center, Bam Adebayo, who made the clutch, game-saving block to get Miami both a hard-fought, overtime win and the 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Denver and Miami winning today also may give future big men hope, and it’s that centers are still valuable, even in the more perimeter-oriented, modern NBA. Nikola Jokic showed off tremendous passing skills, a strong mid-range game, and made solid plays defensively, and Bam Adebayo also excelled as a passer, screen setter and roll man, and was tremendous defensively.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to get to my playoff picks. Currently, I am 8-4 in predicting series in the 2020 NBA playoffs. I went 7-1 in the 1st Round, but only went 1-3 in the 2nd Round. In a previous post, I had picked Boston over Miami in 7, but Miami took the 1-0 lead, though either team look to be well positioned to make a run to get into the NBA Finals.
Here is my pick:
The Los Angeles Lakers over the Denver Nuggets in 6 games
In terms of playoff predictions, I realize in that aspect, I’ve been in a little bit of a funk, but I’m honestly not upset about any of my losses in trying to predict the series’ winners. I like that basketball games can be a bit unpredictable, and it’s fun and entertaining to see which NBA teams and coaches make the adjustments to win, and which teams don’t.
I am also anticipating a fun and exciting Conference Finals, and the NBA playoffs has been full of thrilling twists and turns. Hope you enjoyed this write-up, and thanks for reading.