LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Nikola Jokic had 30 points as the Denver Nuggets reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals with a thrilling 80-78 game seven victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.
The 25-year-old Serbian star, who also had 14 rebounds and four assists, had been taking a back seat to Canadian scoring phenom Jamal Murray in the series, but Jokic busted out in the winner-takes-all showdown in Orlando, Florida.
“We didn’t quit. We just didn’t want to quit. I am glad we won the game,” said Jokic.
Murray scored 17 points and Michael Porter finished with 10 points and nine rebounds for the Nuggets, who advanced in a series for the first time in franchise history after being 3-1 down, becoming just the 12th team in league history to achieve such a comeback.
“A lot of teams would have just given in, especially when you consider we’ve been here 57 days away from our families,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
The Nuggets will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The first game is today in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Florida.
The game finished with a wild sequence that included Utah’s Mike Conley throwing up a desperation shot at the buzzer that ringed the basket but failed to drop. “It looked good, man. Sometimes, it’s just the way it works,” Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said.
“We fought hard and came back. I’d go to war with any one of these guys in the locker room, any one of these coaches. We could’ve easily chalked it up in the first half. We have grit and fight. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Mitchell also had a chance to tie it on Utah’s previous possession but he lost the ball on a drive to the basket. Denver immediately went down to the other end but they missed an easy layup on their final possession of the game that would have sealed it.
Mitchell led the Jazz with 22 points and nine rebounds.
CELTICS STRETCH LEAD
In the Eastern Conference, Jayson Tatum scored a career playoff high 34 points and Marcus Smart drained five three-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Boston Celtics rallied to beat Toronto 102-99 in game two of their series.
Kemba Walker finished with 17 points and Jaylen Brown had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Celtics, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final.
“Marcus Smart has been a winner since he’s gotten here,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens of Smart, who finished with 19 points and six threes. “We’ve been in the playoffs every year since he’s been here and that’s not a coincidence.”
The teams were tied 28-28 at the end of the first quarter but the defending NBA champion Raptors led 78-70 heading into the fourth.
OG Anunoby scored 20 points, Fred VanVleet finished with 19 points and seven assists and Pascal Siakam tallied 17 points for the Raptors, who had chances to pull even but made some uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch.
Kyle Lowry made a pair of free throws with 61 seconds remaining to cut the Celtics lead to just one, 100-99, but that was as close as Toronto would get.
Losing has been an unfamiliar feeling for the Raptors in the NBA bubble. Toronto had only lost one game during the seeding round, a 122-100 setback to the Celtics.
Toronto had an eight-game winning streak heading into the start of this series but have now lost both games to Boston.