The Nuggets live somewhere between the brink and a prayer. Their idea of fun? Dancing on a knife’s edge. Without a net. Or so much as a first-aid kit.
Kids, do not try this at home.
“You guys count us out — not you guys, but other media — count us out everywhere, all the time. It’s good to see everybody eat their words,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said on a Sunday afternoon in Florida, when the priest left church, dashed to the NBA bubble and prepared to recite Last Rites on Denver’s faint hope of staying alive in the playoffs.
Well, sir, dangerously seems to be the only way these hoops Houdini’s know how to live. The Nuggets escaped from 19 points down in the third quarter to shock and awe the heavily favored Los Angeles Clippers 111-98.
But truth be told, these reckless Nuggets should’ve probably been sent to bed without their Sunday dinner, rather than be given a chance to go out and play another day, with the opportunity to become the first team in league history to recover from a 3-1 playoff deficit in two playoff series during the same calendar year.
Whenever you find yourself in a bad spot in 2020? Turn around. The Nuggets will already be there, wearing a goofy grin as big as Nikola Jokic.
“We don’t want to be in that spot,” said Jokic, whose 34 points and 14 rebounds allowed Denver to escape from a double-digit hole for the second time in fewer than 48 hours. “But we’re good in that spot … I’m joking.”
Hey, in addition to the best step-back jumper imported from Europe since the prime of Dirk Nowitzki, the Joker has jokes.
And this joke is on the Clippers, which rhymes with choke.
“It’s happened twice now,” said L.A. star Paul George, whose team blew a 16-point lead to Denver in Game 5.
Rather than go out and play a Game 7 for a fourth-consecutive playoff series, these jokers from Denver should probably be grounded for the remainder of the school year.
Why? Mom always said: Dance on a knife’s edge and you’re going to get hurt.
In fact, Murray did get injured in the darkest moment of this September afternoon. He went down in a big heap, with an ugly thud on the court, under the full weight of George, who got away with a painfully obvious foul.
Get up, Jamal. The Nuggets can’t win without you. Please, get up.
“I was in too much pain to think about that,” Murray said.
With Murray sprawled on the floor, under the basket, unable to move, the Clips raced with the basketball down the floor. Taking advantage of their man-advantage, George drained a 27-foot jumper to put L.A. ahead 68-49 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the third period.
OK, I am happy to fess up. As Malone called timeout to scurry toward his injured point guard, expressing great displeasure with the refs while also praying Murray wasn’t in more pieces than Humpty Dumpty, I began typing the obit for this crazy Nuggets season in this crazy year of COVID-19.
Well, not so fast.
“Even if (Murray) have a broken rib or whatever, he’s going to continue. For sure,” Jokic said.
I guess if you and I have learned anything about Murray and the Nuggets, it’s never to count him — or them — out.
“It hurt. It hurt a lot,” Murray said. “I was going to come out. But not in Game 6, not in an elimination game, not when my team needed me.”
From the point George decked Murray, Denver went a jaw-dropping, momentum-changing and Hades-raising 62-30 run to close out the victory.
“We’ve always had this internal belief in ourselves, as a collective group, that we’re good enough to win a championship,” Malone said. “And we find it funny that the narrative is: The Nuggets are a cute team.”
Cute doesn’t allow this team to get back up after being knocked down more times than Rocky Balboa. Rather than quit, this band of Nuggets cashes in more comebacks than the Eagles. And their heroics encourage wannabe basketball poets like myself to hack prose a deeper shade of purple than anything William Faulkner ever penned.
From Joker to Jamal, the Nuggets make us all drama queens living on a prayer (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
As we await Game 7 on Tuesday night, here’s a little bit of hoops history to chew on, for those of you keeping score at home.
The Clippers, as you might already know, have never advanced to the Western Conference finals in this peripatetic franchise’s history. Not once, dating back to the days when the team called San Diego or Buffalo home.
What’s that got to do with current Clips star Kawhi Leonard, winner of championship rings with San Antonio and Toronto? Maybe absolutely nothing.
But fate can be fickle, as they say. In the second round of the 2015 playoffs, Chris Paul and the Clippers blew a 19-point lead in Game 6 against James Harden and the Rockets, then got unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs in Game 7.
Know who remembers that little piece of trivia? Doc Rivers. He was the coach of those choking Clippers, as well.
“When you decide to be a coach, you know it’s not going to be roses every day,” Rivers said.
What’s up, Doc?
The next dance is on a knife’s edge, where the Nuggets feel right at home.
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