LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP)For Utah and Denver, Game 7 awaits.
For Toronto, so may a Game 7 approach.
The entertaining Western Conference first-round series between Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray – the two leading scorers in the NBA playoffs, averaging a combined 72.7 points per game, a head-to-head show unlike any other in league postseason history – will come to an end Tuesday night, when Denver looks to become the 12th team in NBA history to successfully rally from a 3-1 series deficit.
That game gets preceded by Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between Boston and Toronto, with the Celtics leading 1-0 there.
”It’s more of the same for us. We welcome the challenge. We welcome the adversity,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Monday. ”And, as we talked about, only 11 teams have done this in NBA history. Why shouldn’t we be the 12th? That’s our attitude.”
The last team to successfully rally from 3-1 down was Cleveland, which did it against Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Cavaliers had to win that Game 7 on the road; the Nuggets won’t have to do that, since there is no home-court edge at Disney. Under normal circumstances, they’d have been at home for Game 7.
Both of Denver’s postseason series last season went seven games, so most of the Nuggets have experience in this department. And behind Murray, they’ve already won two elimination games this season.
What he and Mitchell have done in the bubble is historic.
Before this series, there were two players in NBA history to have multiple 50-point games in a single playoff series – Chicago’s Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1988 Eastern Conference playoffs, and Allen Iverson in the 2001 East semifinals.
There are now four names on that list.
Mitchell and Murray have both done it in this series. Mitchell had 57 points in Game 1 and 54 points in Game 4; Murray had 50 points in Game 4 and 50 points again in Game 6.
”What Donovan and Jamal have been doing is unbelievable,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said. ”I’ve said it almost after every game: Those two are playing at one of the highest levels I’ve seen from that position.”
Nobody has ever scored 50 points in a Game 7. Nobody has ever had three 50-point games in a single postseason, much less a single series. Mitchell (averaging 37.8 points in the series) and Murray (averaging 34.0 points) both have that chance Tuesday.
”Somebody’s going home,” Malone said. ”And our plan is for that to not be the Denver Nuggets.”
Nobody is going home anytime soon from the Boston-Toronto series.
The Celtics took a 1-0 lead with a wire-to-wire Game 1 win and are now 2-0 against Toronto in the bubble – never trailing in either of those games. The Raptors are 11-0 against everyone else at Disney.
”Listen, we’ve certainly been punched squarely in the nose,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. ”We’ve got to stand up and either start playing better or not. And that’s kind of where we are.”
The Celtics are 5-0 so far in these playoffs, just as they were to start last season before dropping four straight to Milwaukee in the second round.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said things are different now.
”Last year’s behind us,” Tatum said. ”This is different all around. We know it’s not going to be easy. They’re the defending champ for a reason.”
Both games will reverberate across Ontario – where Murray is from, and where the Raptors make their home. Viewership for Raptors games across Canada was up in the first round of these playoffs as opposed to 2019, and viewership for non-Raptors games is up 40% in Canada so far in this postseason as well.
A look at Tuesday’s games:
CELTICS VS. RAPTORS
Boston leads 1-0. Game 2, 5:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
– NEED TO KNOW: The seven-day layoff between games didn’t help the Raptors, who went from scoring 150 points to close out Brooklyn to managing only 94 in Game 1 against the Celtics. Boston, meanwhile, has allowed only 99.9 points per game in its last seven contests. In today’s NBA, that’s airtight defense.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: Raptors F Pascal Siakam. Thrown off by foul trouble early in Game 1, he’ll need a bounceback showing.
– INJURY WATCH: Celtics G Kemba Walker has dealt with knee issues since the season restarted and got a scare Sunday, but insisted he was fine again after some treatment. Raptors G Kyle Lowry showed no ill effects in Game 1 from his sprained ankle.
– PRESSURE IS ON: Toronto. Losing to the Celtics for the fifth time in six games this season would only strengthen Boston’s resolve and belief.
JAZZ VS. NUGGETS
Series tied 3-3. Game 7, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.
– NEED TO KNOW: Utah has won its last two Game 7s and is 3-2 all-time in them. Denver is 2-3 in Game 7s since joining the NBA.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: Mitchell and Murray will have all eyes on them, but if they continue putting up similar numbers then this game would figure to be decided by others. Conley has averaged 22.8 points in his four games in this series; Nikola Jokic is averaging 25.7 in the series for Denver.
– INJURY WATCH: Gary Harris gave Denver 21 minutes in Game 6, his first game back from a hip problem. He clearly helps from a depth perspective.
– PRESSURE IS ON: Everybody. It’s Game 7.
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