In April 2009, Paul Millsap was a 24-year-old forward for the Utah Jazz when they faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Millsap, in his third season, scored a team-high 16 points off the bench in Game 5 of that series. But the top-seeded Lakers ended up defeating the eighth-seeded Jazz en route to their 15th NBA title.
Now, Millsap, 35, is a starter for the Denver Nuggets and has a chance to get some revenge for that postseason loss 11 years ago. On Tuesday night, the No. 3 seed Nuggets defeated the No.2 seed Los Angeles Clippers, 104-89, in Game 7 of their second round series, setting up a Western Conference championship against the top-seeded Lakers.
Millsap wasn’t at his best on Tuesday, scoring just 6 points on 2-of-6 field goals in 32 minutes. Still, this is the first time since 2009 that the Nuggets have advanced to the conference finals. Back then, the Lakers defeated the Nuggets in five games. The Nuggets have made only two other conference finals, losing in six games in 1978 to the Seattle SuperSonics and losing in five games in 1985 to the Lakers.
Millsap is the only player on the Nuggets’ roster that was in the NBA when they last played in the conference finals. And yet, the youthful team is playing beyond its years and never seems fazed.
The Nuggets are the only team in NBA history to come back from multiple three games to one deficits in the same postseason. They did so in the first round against the Jazz, clinching the series with an 80-78 Game 7 victory in which they nearly blew a 19-point lead. And they followed that up with a resilient effort against the Clippers. They rallied from a 15-point deficit in Game 5 and a 19-point deficit in Game 6.
On Tuesday night, the Clippers led by 12 points late in the first half, but the Nuggets dominated after intermission and cruised to an easy victory.
As usual, Denver’s one-two combination of center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray were the catalysts for Tuesday’s win. Jokic, 25, had 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists, while Murray, 23, had a game-high 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting, including 6-of-13 on 3-pointers.
The Nuggets open the Western Conference finals on Friday night against the Lakers, who won their first two series in five games apiece. The Lakers will be favored to advance to the NBA Finals behind the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Still, it’s hard to count out the Nuggets, as they’ve shown all postseason.
“This is a special group,” Jokic told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after the game. “Nobody wants us here. Nobody thinks that we can do something. We proved to ourselves and proved to everybody that we can do something.”