Just over a week ago, the Denver Nuggets looked anything like a team that could come back from a 3–1 playoff series deficit to the Utah Jazz. Their defense was in disarray while the Jazz scored at will and averaged more than 125 points over the first four games of the series. It seemed unlikely that the Nuggets would win another game, let alone the series.
However, the Nuggets found a way to shore up a porous defense and rode Jamal Murray’s offensive explosion to a pair of double-digit wins, holding the Jazz to 107 points in consecutive games to force a Game 7. After giving up 36 first-quarter points to the Jazz in Game 6, the Nuggets tightened up their defense and outscored Utah 89-71 the rest of the way to win 119-107.
Tossup in Game 7
Despite the lopsided nature of the series, with only one game decided by single digits, the betting line for Game 7 is a tossup. The over/under is 218.5, which is lower than the total score of all but one game in the series.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the oddsmakers predict a close game, but that there is equal sentiment for both teams. Given the nature of the series, the margin of victory will likely be double digits, but it’s difficult to predict who will prevail.
The two offensive forces are Donovan Mitchell for the Jazz and the Murray for the Nuggets. Mitchell has averaged 40 points a game while Murray has put up 34, but his average is over 47 points for the last three games. In the Jazz’s two lopsided wins, they held him to 14 points in Game 2 and 12 points in Game 3.
Obviously, for the Jazz, they will most likely need to contain Murray to advance. He lit them up for 50 in a two-point Jazz win in Game 4, but Mitchell was able to win the duel with 51 points.
Momentum is on the side of the Nuggets as they have been able to shut down the Jazz down the stretch in the last two games. It will be a big challenge for Jazz coach Quinn Snyder to devise a strategy to do two things: contain Murray and find consistent offense in the fourth quarter.
The Case for the Jazz
Even without shutting down Murray, the Jazz have found a way to beat the Nuggets. They’ve won two blowouts and a close game, so Utah has the roster to defeat the Nuggets and advance to the Western Conference semifinals. They need to find a way to return to the offensive flow they had in their wins, one that exposed the lack of depth for the Nuggets.
Mitchell will get his points but will need significant contributions from other players, notably Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. If Snyder can come up with a way to better defend the pick and roll, Game 7 could look a lot more like Game 3 than Game 6.
The Case for the Nuggets
Momentum is clearly in the favor of the Nuggets, who are looking more like the number three seed that entered the playoffs with aspirations of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Murray has been unstoppable in the last three games, and their defense has stiffened since giving up 129 points in a close loss in Game 4.
The Nuggets are the better team, even with a couple of players out due to injury. Utah is also without a big piece of their team, Bojan Bogdonavich, so it’s probably a push. I’ve watched every game of this series, and I’m as confused as anyone.
My gut says to take the Nuggets and the over, but given the volatility of the first six games, it’s hardly a confident position.