Nuggets edge Jazz to advance after completing comeback from 3-1 down
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Nikola Jokic made the tiebreaking basket with 27 seconds left and the Denver Nuggets advanced to the second round of the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, beating the Utah Jazz 80-78 in Game 7 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.
After Jokic’s basket, the Jazz got the ball to Donovan 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.
Jokic had 30 points and 14 rebounds and Jamal Murray scored 17 points.
No. 3 seed Denver advanced to face the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Donovan Mitchell scored 22 points and Rudy Gobert finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds after a huge second half for the Jazz.
A series that featured historic offensive fireworks between Murray and Mitchell turned into an old-fashioned Game 7 defensive struggle. 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.
Nuggets: Denver improved to 3-3 in Game 7s. … Michael Porter Jr. had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Jazz: Mitchell scored 14 consecutive Utah points spanning halftime. … Utah scored only 15 points in the second quarter after getting held to 20 in Game 6.
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