The Denver Nuggets are hard to describe. At times during the playoffs, both this season and last, they have looked like a team of completely overmatched jokers. At other times, they have looked like one of the most unshakable and dangerous collection of basketball players in the NBA. The only reasonable thing to say about this team, no matter which version happens to show up, is, “Are you seeing this shit? This shit is wild.”
The Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals today, forcing Game 7. The Nuggets were once down 3-1 in this series, trailed by 15 points with about 10 minutes left to play in the third quarter of Game 5, and trailed by 19 points with nine minutes left to play in the third quarter today. That they now have a chance to win one game and advance to the Western Conference Finals is, well, crazy.
It’s the kind of crazy the Nuggets have been creating for a while now. This team was down 2-1 to the Spurs in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, looking completely overwhelmed by their veteran opponents. They forced a Game 7, and advanced. That’s when they met the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round, fell behind 2-1 in the series after a soul-wrenching quadruple-overtime loss in Game 4, and eventually lost the series in seven.
Cut to this postseason, where the Nuggets went down 3-1 to the Jazz in the first round while looking like a team fully incapable of playing even passing NBA-quality defense. All it took to get out of that mess was for Jamal Murray to briefly become the most unstoppable scoring force in NBA history, and for one of the most bugfuck sequences to ever take place in a basketball game to break the Nuggets’ way at the end of Game 7.
The point is, there appears to be no force on this earth that can prevent the Nuggets from playing in a Game 7. Not a 3-1 series deficit, not a 15-point second-half hole in an elimination game (they’ve seen three of those this year), not extended spasms of brainless defending, not injuries to key players, and not even a punk rookie complaining about his touches. If seven games are on the menu, the Nuggets will be eating until someone kicks them out of the restaurant.
I won’t pretend to know whether this resilience augurs a championship future for this young and talented team. Anyone inclined towards narratives could argue that blooding themselves in these sorts of Playoff Battles will give the baby Nuggets the mental and emotional fortitude they need to eventually burst through a championship window. Who the hell knows if that will prove to be true.
What I do know is that this team is always there to offer a fun, maddening, transcendent experience. Murray is constantly on the verge of scoring 17 straight points and then unleashing a poetic string of expletives about who, exactly, cannot guard him. Nikola Jokic, for all the kvetching broadcasters love to do about how passive he can be, has never been anything but a pure motherfucker in an elimination game. Turn on a win-or-go-home Nuggets game and prepare to see this big lug hit one-footed jumpers from any point on the floor while looking like he’s suffering from a terrible cold. You’ll definitely see Michael Porter Jr. make one of the dumbest defensive rotations you’ve ever seen before proceeding to nail multiple contested three-pointers and grab a game-swinging clutch rebound or two.
This team is nuts. They might come back from two straight 3-1 series deficits and go to the Western Conference Finals. They might lose by 26 on Tuesday night. Either way, they have been just the right combination of raw and fearless to deliver four consecutive Game 7 experiences to their fans. Nobody can be mad about that.