The Denver Nuggets will be seeking a first in franchise history, while the Utah Jazz are looking to avoid one, when the Northwest Division rivals meet in Game 7 of their NBA first-round playoff series Tuesday night near Orlando.
The Nuggets have ridden a scoring explosion by Jamal Murray to earn consecutive wins and necessitate a win-or-go-home series finale for both teams.
The winner earns the right to tackle the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Playing in the sixth Game 7 in the franchise’s NBA history, the third-seeded Nuggets will be attempting to advance for the first time ever in a best-of-seven in which they fell behind 3-1. Only 11 teams in the NBA’s history have pulled off the series comeback from such a deficit.
Denver played a pair of seven-gamers last year, beating San Antonio in the first round before falling to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.
The sixth-seeded Jazz will also be taking their sixth swing at a Game 7, including beating the Clippers in a deciding contest in the first round in 2017.
Utah has never failed to advance after leading a series 3-1.
Murray and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell have engaged in a historic duel through six games, with each having topped 50 points twice.
Mitchell outscored his counterpart in each of the first four games, leading to three Utah wins, before Murray turned the tables in the last two meetings, winning the personal duels 42-30 and 50-44.
“I’m running out of things and superlatives for Jamal Murray,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone gushed after the game. “I just want to say I’m proud of him.”
Murray and Mitchell have each made 31 3-pointers in the series. The next one by either will tie the single-series playoff record of 32 set by Golden State’s Stephen Curry in 2016.
Mitchell needs 10 points to break LeBron James’ record of 241 in a first-round series, set in 2018. Murray, with 204 points, also stands within striking distance of that mark.
Mitchell would need a third 50-point game — and more — to surpass former Los Angeles Lakers great Elgin Baylor’s single-series record of 284 points, set in 1962.
The All-Star tried to get his team to look ahead — rather than back — after Sunday’s loss.
“If we’re down (emotionally) now, then we’ve already lost Game 7,” he assured reporters afterward. “There were things we could do to win this game.”
Two other factors have led to the Nuggets’ revival in the past two games.
Nikola Jokic, who had played Jazz center Rudy Gobert basically on even terms for four games, got the better of the head-to-head in Games 5 and 6. Jokic averaged 26.5 points in the two wins, largely on the strength of 10-for-16 shooting from 3-point range.
Gobert has countered with just an 11.0-point average, although he has completed double-doubles on both occasions with an average of 11.5 rebounds.
Also, the Denver bench was a huge difference-maker in Game 6, contributing 14 points and 26 rebounds to the win, as opposed to Utah’s 21 points and five boards.
All four Nuggets reserves — including guard Gary Harris, playing for the first time since the restart — had plus-11 or better plus/minus figures in the 12-point win.
–Field Level Media