Nuggets Notes: Game 7, Jokic, Murray, Braun, Offseason

The defending-champion Nuggets were eliminated from the postseason in extraordinary fashion by the Timberwolves in Sunday night’s Game 7, blowing a 20-point third-quarter lead at home, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. According to Youngmisuk, it was the largest Game 7 blown lead in the past 25 years.

Perhaps all the more stunning is the fact that Denver is known for having one of the best home court advantages in the league, going 33-8 in the regular season and only dropping one playoff home game during its championship campaign in 2022/23. In the first round, the Nuggets went 3-0 vs. the Lakers at home. Yet in the semifinal, they dropped three of four to Minnesota.

As Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes, Nikola Jokic (34 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists) put up his typical huge numbers. However, the reigning Finals MVP and three-time MVP noticeably ran out of gas as the game progressed, settling for jumpers in the second half and going 13-of-28 from the floor overall, including 2-of-10 on threes (he made 6-of-7 from the line). The Serbian star rested for a total of just 84 seconds, all of which came in the first half.

Jokic was humble in defeat, praising the Wolves and specifically their roster construction. Minnesota’s front office is led by Tim Connelly, who drafted Jokic to Denver before getting a raise from the Wolves a couple years ago.

I mean, I think they’re built to beat us,” Jokic said, per Youngmisuk. “Just look at their roster. They have basically two All-Stars (Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns), two probably first-team defensive players (Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels). Mike Conley is the most underrated player in the NBA, probably.

“From the bench, they have a Sixth Man of the Year (Naz Reid). … (They are) one team that they can do literally everything. They can be big, small.”

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Jamal Murray, who was instrumental in last year’s Finals run but has been battling a calf strain, scored his 29th point just over a minute into the second half before adding just six the rest of the way. He finished with a game-high 35 points on a very similar line to Jokic (13-of-27, 4-of-12 on threes, 5-of-5 on free throws). Murray viewed the series differently than Jokic, believing the Nuggets were the superior team, but trying to repeat as champions took its toll. “Just mentally and physically, conjuring up the energy to fight like you’re being hunted,” Murray said. “I think that’s the emotion. When you’re the hunter, you have so much more motivation and you grasp on to anything to prove everybody wrong and you have a constant chip on your shoulder. I don’t know. … I feel like we should have won tonight. That’s the tough part. They beat us, but we had so many great opportunities, including myself, so it’s just tough, man.”
  • Second-year wing Christian Braun concurred with Murray’s assessment and said he definitely views the Wolves as a rival now after eliminating a shorthanded Minnesota in last year’s playoffs. “It sucks,” Braun said. according to Durando, “because I think we’re the better team. … I don’t like them. I think that we need more of that in the NBA. They’re a really good team. Really well-coached. Really good players. It’s a matchup that you love to play in. You don’t want to play, like, really friendly with a bunch of teams. I think it’s a really good rivalry for the NBA. I would say it is a rivalry. And that’s why this hurts more.”
  • While Jokic and Murray took responsibility, they combined to score 69 points, compared to 21 points on 8-of-28 shooting for the rest of the team, notes Youngmisuk. And the starting lineup, which has consistently been one of the best in the league the past two seasons, was minus-60 overall, per Durando.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link), HoopsHype’s Mark Deeks, and cap expert Yossi Gozlan (YouTube link) preview Denver’s offseason and future salary cap situation, respectively. Starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one of the team’s top defenders who shot 41.6% from deep in his two regular seasons with the Nuggets, could be their top free agent — he holds a $15.4MM player option and would likely get a raise on the open market. The Nuggets have one of the league’s more expensive rosters, so re-signing the 31-year-old might not be a lock.
  • Murray reiterated his desire to play for Canada in the upcoming Olympics in Paris this summer, per Parker Gabriel of The Denver Post. However, Jokic was noncommittal about the possibility of suiting up for the Serbia. “I don’t know, my friend, we will see,” he said. “I need to think about it.”
  • Head coach Michael Malone was clearly frustrated after the series and defended his actions and team, calling it a temporary setback, per Youngmisuk. “This is just a momentary delay,” Malone said. “It’s a failure, it’s not fatal. We’ll be back. The better team won, so I’m taking nothing away from Minnesota … but mentally, emotionally, physically, I think guys are gassed. They’re dead tired. They gave me everything I could ever ask for, and that’s why as much as this hurts, I’ll walk out of this building tonight with my head held very high.”
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