The Denver Nuggets survived a frantic finish to complete a rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit Tuesday night, getting a go-ahead hoop from Nikola Jokic with 27.8 seconds remaining for an 80-78 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round series in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The 4-3 win vaults the third-seeded Nuggets, who had never previously rallied to win a series from down 3-1, into a second-round matchup with the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, beginning Thursday night.
After sixth-seeded Utah forged a 78-all tie on a Rudy Gobert dunk with 47.5 seconds left, the Nuggets went to Jokic inside against the Jazz’s ace defender, and the Denver big man came through with a short hook shot in the lane for the game’s final points.
The Jazz had two subsequent possessions.
First, the Nuggets stripped the ball from Donovan Mitchell with 8.4 seconds to go. But rather than try to run out the clock, Denver rushed the ball up the floor and watched Torrey Craig miss a contested layup with 4.4 seconds remaining.
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Gobert rebounded and got the ball to Mike Conley, who had a good look at a potential game-winning 3-pointer just before the final horn but had the shot rim out.
In winning for the third straight time after falling behind 3-1 in the series, the Nuggets prevailed despite getting just 17 points on 7-for-21 shooting from Jamal Murray, who suffered a bruised thigh in a collision with Utah’s Joe Ingles in the second quarter and was never the same.
Jokic paced the Nuggets with a game-high 30 points, completing a double-double with 14 rebounds.
Michael Porter Jr. chipped in with 10 points off the bench for Denver, which won despite shooting just 37.3 percent and scoring only 30 points in the second half.
After a slow start, Mitchell led the Jazz with 22 points, shooting 9-for-22, while Gobert had 19 to complement a game-high 18 rebounds.
Mitchell connected on a pair of 3-pointers (on eight attempts), giving him 33 treys in the seven games and allowing him to break Stephen Curry’s single-series postseason record of 32, set in 2016. Murray wound up with 32 3-pointers in the series, though he was just 1-for-6 from long distance on Tuesday.
Jordan Clarkson added 10 points for Utah, which had never previously lost a playoff series in which it led 3-1.
After Mitchell’s 13 third-quarter points had rallied the Jazz into contention after they had trailed by as many as 19, Conley and Gobert combined for all the points in an 8-0 run to begin the fourth period and give Utah its first lead since the first quarter at 68-65.
Denver subsequently regained a four-point lead on two consecutive hoops by Murray, the latter making it 78-74 with 1:43 to go.
But Utah made one last charge, rallying into a 78-all tie with 47.5 seconds to go on hoops by Royce O’Neal and Gobert, both assisted by Conley, setting up the wild finish.
Mitchell was held to two points in the first 22 minutes, during which the Jazz fell behind by as many as 10 in the first quarter and 19 in the second.