The Nuggets did what? They upset the Clippers and trashed a made-in-Hollywood script. How in the NBA world did that happen?
Well, truth is stranger. In a league that has been ruled by dynamic duos since the days of Magic and Kareem, the NBA’s new power couple is Joker and his little buddy Jamal.
When it was over, with a no-doubt-about-it 104-89 playoff victory Tuesday night, and the scrappy little Nuggets had ended the league’s big plans for LeBron against the Claw in the Western Conference finals by outscoring the Clippers by 64 points in the second half of three consecutive elimination games, Jokic and Murray stood together in the NBA bubble, the happiest couple in the Magic Kingdom since Mickey and Minnie.
“We go hand in hand,” Murray said after scoring 40 points in Game 7.
After dropping a triple-double on Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers when it mattered most, Joker stood alongside Jamal on the court and tried to describe the love in the Denver locker room to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
“We are like a couple,” Jokic said.
No argument here.
Joker and Jamal are Denver’s new power couple, in a city that has enjoyed more than its share of dynamic sports duos.
John Elway and Terrell Davis.
Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy.
After getting schooled by Jokic as Denver rallied from a 3-1 deficit in this best-of-seven series, Clippers coach Doc Rivers hit the reset button on his strategy against basketball’s most beautiful mind. Throwing two defenders at Jokic in Game 7, Rivers stole a page from the Book of Belichick, who relished giving different looks and press coverage to Peyton Manning, in the hope it might slow down the processing speed of a quarterback equipped with a super-computer under his helmet.
In a win-or-go-home scenario, this was L.A’s story, and Rivers seemed bent on sticking to it. He decided to make somebody other than Joker beat the Clippers.
For much of the first half, it worked. Jokic, selfless to a fault, attempted only four shots from the field. Nothing wrong with that by the greatest passing center who has ever lived.
The problem? Most of his Denver teammates were too scared to pop a jumper during the early going. When Kawhi Leonard finished a layup to put Los Angeles ahead 50-38 with 4 minutes, 36 seconds, remaining in the first half, the Nuggets again seemed determined to employ their rather unorthodox approach of digging a crater and inviting L.A. to fall in it.
“Everybody counted us out,” Murray said. “It’s fun to silence everybody.”
Murray ain’t afraid. Ever. He was born to play Game 7. The ability to laugh at pressure is a gene not found in the hard wiring of most human beings. Denver did not get blown away in the second quarter, and went to intermission down by only a bucket, for one simple reason: Murray scored 20 points in the second period.
The young point guard was legendary against Utah in Round 1. Murray, however, grew by a power of three against the Clippers. “Imagine what he’s going through,” Malone told me recently. “You have three all-NBA defensive players in (Patrick) Beverley, (Paul) George and Leonard guarding him.”
Let’s turn the clock back a mere three weeks when many in Denver wanted to run Malone out of town after the Nuggets had looked lifeless and disinterested in three straight losses to the Jazz.
Well, how do you like Brendan Malone’s kid now?
While becoming the first coach in NBA history to guide a team from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same year, Malone has channeled Ice Cube when saying bye to Felicia, walked a hard line wearing black in tribute to Johnny Cash and poked fun at himself, suggesting he was Morris Buttermaker, coach of the Bad News Bears.
“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Malone said. “We’re not afraid of anybody.”
Elway and T.D.
Sakic and Roy.
“We as a duo have went through everything,” Jokic said.
To officially take their place among the greatest power couples in Denver sports history, Joker and Jamal need to do just one more thing.
Put a ring on it. A championship ring.