Nikola Jokic had another triple-double, Jamal Murray hit a clutch floater with 36.8 seconds remaining and the Nuggets held off the Spurs 90-86 in Game 7 on Saturday night to advance in the postseason for the first time in a decade.
"I love the grit, the resiliency, the toughness we played with tonight," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "Even late when they made their run ... we never lost our composure." In a matchup between a Denver team with the youngest playoff roster in the West and the savvy Spurs, the second-seeded Nuggets built a 17-point lead in the third quarter only to see it whittled down to two with 52 seconds remaining.
Jokic finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, with no pass bigger than the one to set up Murray's floater. DeMar DeRozan had a chance to slice into the deficit but was blocked by Torrey Craig. With time running out, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yelled and yelled for someone to commit a foul, just to prolong the game. The roar was too loud. The Nuggets were able to essentially run out the time and begin their celebration.
"After the game you're thinking, 'Why didn't they foul?'" Craig said. Easy: It was just too loud. Denver went an NBA-best 34-7 at home in the regular season and rode the energy of the packed house all the way to the end.
"I missed it," LaMarcus Aldridge said of Popovich calling a foul. "That's it." Since making the Western Conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets have bowed out in the first round on four occasions. This was their first playoff appearance in six seasons.
Denver will host third-seeded Portland in a second-round series that begins Monday. Murray added 23 points for the Nuggets, who captured a Game 7 for the first time since May 3, 1978, when David Thompson had 37 in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nuggets never trailed Saturday. "Anxiety is a good word," Malone joked. Rudy Gay had 21 points for San Antonio, while DeRozan and Bryn Forbes each added 19. The Spurs fell to 3-4 in Games 7s under Popovich.
Jokic turned in another monster game. Jokic showed off his arsenal of shots, even throwing in a sky hook. He played a little more than 43 minutes — just slightly down from the 48 minutes Malone pledged to play him during pregame.
"Bumps and bruises, whatever," Jokic said. "You need to fight them in this moment." Told his numbers for the series — 162 points, 85 rebounds, 64 assists — Jokic responded: "And win," he said. The big man also had a triple-double in Game 1.
"He's magnificent, magnificent," Popovich said. "I'll just leave it at that." It was a forgettable first half for the Spurs, who trailed 47-34 after shooting 22.2% from the floor. The Spurs hit 10 of 19 shots in the fourth quarter.
"If we had that in the first half we would have had a better chance of winning," DeRozan said. TIP-INS Spurs: G Patty Mills played in his 85th playoff game with San Antonio, tying him with Sean Elliott for ninth-most in franchise history. ... Aldridge finished with 16 points.
Nuggets: Denver was 2 of 20 from 3-point range. ... Harris had 11 points. CLANG Both teams shot slightly less than 40% from the field for the game. "Tonight was an odd game," Popovich said. "I thought both teams set basketball back in the first half. I'm surprised people stayed."
SCREEN GAME The Nuggets weren't particularly pleased with the way the Spurs set screens during the series. More specifically, Jakob Poeltl, whose knee caught Murray in the thigh during the third quarter of Game 6.
DeRozan bristled at the notion that Poeltl may be a dirty player. "Anybody that thinks Jakob is a dirty play, they have a dirty mind," DeRozan said. "Jakob is not a dirty player at all. He goes out there and plays extremely hard. His intent is never to hurt anybody."
HOOPS HISTORIAN A big basketball historian, Gay reflected on the loss of John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics star and Hall of Famer who died Thursday at 79. Gay said Havlicek's versatility paved the way for players like him.
"Couldn't shoot like him," Gay said. "Wish I could." POP'S THOUGHTS Popovich was asked in a round-about way what his future as a head coach will be after this season. "I'm a head coach in the NBA," Popovich responded. "I don't think about what that means in the future."
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