LAKE BUENTA VISTA, Fla. – It was a devastating end to a highly entertaining series.
Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell traded historic offensive fireworks for six games, before Game 7 turned into an old-fashioned defensive struggle.
”It was a great battle. I don’t know what else to say. I’m speechless,” Murray said.
Nikola Jokic made the tiebreaking basket with 27 seconds left and the Nuggets advanced to the second round of the playoffs, beating the Utah Jazz 80-78 on Tuesday night when Mike Conley’s 3-pointer spun out at the buzzer.
The Nuggets became the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series, but only after they blew a 19-point lead in this game.
“They’re experienced, they’ve played in game 7’s,” said Mitchell, who scored 22 points.
“They’ve played in times like this, and I gotta give them credit. But there are certain things that you look back on that we could have capitalized to not be in this position, but we’ll fix it.”
After Jokic’s basket, the Jazz got the ball to Mitchell following a timeout. The Nuggets stole it from him and raced down for a fast break, but Torrey Craig missed the layup. Utah rebounded and pushed the ball up the floor to Conley, whose jumper looked good all the way until it fell out.
”It looked good, man. Sometimes, it’s just the way it works,” Mitchell said.
”We fought hard and came back. I’d go to war with any one of these guys in the locker room, any one of these coaches. We could’ve easy chalked it up in the first half. We have grit and fight. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Jokic had 30 points and 14 rebounds and Murray scored 17 points. No. 3 seed Denver advanced to face the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Mitchell scored 22 points and Rudy Gobert finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds after a huge second half for the Jazz.
“What’s happened over the last week in particular I’m unbelievably proud of the way we competed,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “What I remember about tonight is that we were dead in the water in the first half. We were playing well in a lot of ways, our group kept grinding, we kept competing.”
Murray shot only 7 for 21, far off his performances of the past three games. So the Nuggets turned more to Jokic, their All-Star center who tossed in a short hook shot in the lane after the Jazz had tied it at 78.
Murray and Mitchell became the first pair of players to have two 50-point games in the same series, but the men in the middle were the biggest factors in this one.
After a quiet first half in which Mitchell was all the Jazz had going, Gobert began dominating the paint, keeping possessions alive on offense and stopping Denver drives on defense.
But the Nuggets prevailed in their third Game 7 in the last two years, having defeated San Antonio in the first round last year before getting knocked out by Portland. They played three more do-or-die games in the bubble to extend their stay.
Denver controlled the first half and had a 19-point lead a minute into the third quarter. Mitchell then scored nine straight points before Conley hit a 3-pointer that cut it to 55-48. The Jazz got it all the way down to 65-60 after Gobert converted a three-point play for the final points of the period.
Utah then got the first eight of the fourth, the final six by Gobert, to open a 68-65 lead.
The Jazz won three straight games after Denver took the opener in overtime, and were poised to put away the series when they led by 15 points in the second half of Game 5.
But Murray, who had scored 50 points in Game 4, rallied the Nuggets and finished with 42, then came back with 50 again in Game 6, a three-game total of 142 that had been topped in the playoffs by only Jerry West and Michael Jordan.
The Jazz were 9-0 all-time in playoff series in which they led 3 games to 1.
“I think we shouldn’t have ever been in this situation,” Mitchell said. “That’s where a lot of the emotion comes from. There are so many things we can go to as a unit. I think that’s what hurts the most. We can go to my 8-second violation in Game 1, us blowing a 15-point lead in Game 5. I give them credit, but I feel like we kind of eased off the gas in Game 5.”
Utah had made over 40 percent of its 3-point shots in the series before Game 7, but shot just 23.5% (8 of 34) from beyond the arc on Tuesday.
Jordan Clarkson had 10 points off the bench for Utah. Conley had his first bad game in the bubble, scoring just 8 points on 2 of 13 shooting.
Denver moves on to play the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals on Thursday.