Kiszla: The Nuggets did what? How Joker and his little buddy Jamal shocked the Clippers and the NBA world (again). – The Denver Post

The Nuggets did what? Well, you’re not going to believe this, Coach Buttermaker, but the Bad News Bears of basketball upset big, bad Kawhi Leonard and the mighty Los Angeles Clippers.

Jumping catfish! How could the NBA let this happen?

Truth is stranger.

In a league ruled by dynamic duos since the days of Magic and Kareem, the NBA’s new power couple are two guys who aren’t household names in most of America, but are beloved in the Rocky Mountains as Joker and Jamal.

“We go hand-in-hand,” point guard Jamal Murray said Tuesday. He scored 40 points in a Game 7 victory that upset the NBA’s preordained showdown of LeBron James and Leonard in a Western Conference finals made of pure Hollywood gltiz.

As Denver center Nikola Jokic, who dropped a triple-double on the Clippers’ championship dreams, gleefully put it: “Nobody wants us here.”

After the scrappy little Nuggets finished a no-doubt-about-it 104-89 playoff victory, the enormity of their upset quantified by outscoring L.A. by a cumulative 64 points during the second half of three-straight elimination games, Jokic and Murray gathered in the NBA bubble, the happiest couple in the Magic Kingdom since Mickey and Minnie.

Sweaty from engineering a stat line heavy with 16 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds, Joker stood beside his little buddy Jamal on the court and tried to describe the love in the Denver locker room to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

“We are like a couple,” Jokic said. “We’re close.”

No argument here.

Joker and Jamal have now also earned their stripes as a legendary power couple in Denver, a city that has enjoyed more than its share of dynamic sports duos.

John Elway and Terrell Davis.

Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy.

Welcome to the club, Joker and Jamal.

“When they put pressure on us, we couldn’t handle it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

After getting schooled by Jokic as Denver rallied from a 3-1 deficit in this best-of-seven series, Rivers hit the reset button on his strategy against basketball’s most beautiful mind.

Throwing two defenders at Jokic early in Game 7, Rivers stole a page from the Book of Bill Belichick, who relished giving different looks to Peyton Manning, in hope the pressure might slow the processing speed of a Hall of Fame quarterback equipped with a super-computer under his helmet.

In a win-or-go-home scenario, this was L.A’s story, and Rivers stuck to it. He was determined to make somebody other than Joker beat the Clippers.

For much of the first half, it worked. Jokic, selfless to a fault, attempted only four shots from the field. Nothing wrong with that, right? The greatest passing center in league history distributing the ball to his fellow Nuggets? What could possibly go wrong?

The problem? Most of his teammates were too scared to pop a jumper during the early going. When Leonard finished a layup to put Los Angeles ahead 50-38 with 4 minutes, 36 seconds, remaining in the first half, the Nuggets again seemed determined to employ their recent unorthodox approach of digging a crater and inviting L.A. to fall in it.

“In the second quarter, they’re pulling away from us. They gave us a knockout punch. Were we going to get off the mat? Or were we going to stay down, and let the game slip away? We showed the heart of a champion, the heart of a fighter. And Jamal had a lot to do with it,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Murray ain’t afraid. Ever. He was born to play Game 7. The ability to laugh at pressure is a gene not found in the hard-wiring of most human beings.

Denver did not get blown away in the second quarter, and went to intermission down by only a bucket, for one lone reason: Murray scored a clutch 20 points in the second period alone.

“How many times have we seen it? Our season’s on the line, we need somebody to make a big play, and Jamal Murray steps up,” Malone said.

The 23-year-old guard started building a legend with 50-point outbursts against Utah in Round 1. Murray, however, grew by a power of three against the Clippers.

“Imagine what he’s going through,” Malone told me over the weekend. “You have three all-NBA defensive players in (Patrick) Beverley, (Paul) George and Leonard guarding him.”

Let’s turn the clock back a mere three weeks, when doubters in Denver wanted to run Malone out of town, after the Nuggets had looked lifeless and disinterested in three straight losses to the Jazz.

Well, how do you like Brendan Malone’s kid now?

While becoming the first coach in NBA history to guide a team from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same calendar year, Malone has channeled Ice Cube in saying bye to Felicia, walked a hard line wearing black in tribute to Johnny Cash and poked fun at himself, suggesting he is Morris Buttermaker, coach of basketball’s Bad News Bears.

“Our goal was never to get to a Game 7. Our goal, when we started this season, was to win a championship. As outrageous as that might sound to people outside the group, we never lost sight of that,” Malone said.

Next up: King James. If the Nuggets could find a way to declaw Leonard, who’s to doubt they can knock off the crown of this generation’s greatest player?

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Malone said. “We’re not afraid of anybody.”

Elway and T.D.

Sakic and Roy.

Joker and Jamal.

“We as a duo have (gone) through everything,” Jokic said.

Added Murray: “Everybody counts us out. It’s fun to silence everybody.”

To officially cement their place among the greatest power couples in Denver sports history, Joker and his little buddy need to do just one more thing.

Put a ring on it.

Source: Read Full Article