When looking at early-round NBA playoff matchups, especially those not involving a “true contender,” it’s easy to be dismissive.
These teams don’t really have a chance to win the whole thing, so casual fans may shy away from watching. I consider myself slightly more than a casual NBA fan, and even I can find it difficult to get too worked up over a first-round series.
All of this is a long preamble to say that I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t make the Jazz – Nuggets first-round playoff matchup appointment viewing. There are plenty of TV options, Netflix has never been better, and while NBA diehards have fallen in love with these two teams this season, it was one of the first-round matchups that didn’t exactly scream out “must-see.”
But if you did happen to get sucked into this series, like I did, man it was special. It was the perfect example of everything great about postseason basketball, even if it didn’t feature a team that (most likely) will win a title.
The series may have been fleeting, but it was perfection.
In this series you had two ascendant alpha dogs trading offensive haymakers, with Jamal Murray making the leap before our very eyes, and Donovan Mitchell matching him every step of the way. Mitchell went for 57 points in a game. A few games later, Murray went for 50.
It all led to one of my favorite moments of the series, when Mitchell went off for 57 … then Murray praised him effusively in the post-match interview.
But everywhere you looked there was fun matchups, interesting wrinkles, great coaching adjustments. Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert battling in the post was a study in beautiful, contrasting styles. The Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. had a few huge buckets. A Morris brother was floating around — always a necessity for a great playoff series.
And the series was close — only one game in the entire series was a blowout, with two games (Game 4 and Game 7) coming down to a single bucket.
After a full seven games, the series came down to a shot from Mike Conley Jr. that … just didn’t fall. It would have been one of the great buzzer beaters of the NBA playoffs, and it just missed.
It was a fitting end for a random, thrilling playoff series. The whole thing was decided by a shot sailing about an inch farther than it needed to.
The Nuggets move on. They’ll face Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, who will be a tough, tough team to beat. But even if they don’t beat them, they won an incredible series, and gave NBA fans a wonderful, random first-round classic.