Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

Denver Nuggets main man Jamal Murray barrel his way past Clippers’ Patrick Beverly (21) and Kawhi Leonard. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

  • The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla: Just about everyone had LA vs. LA written in for the Western Conference finals.

Then along came the resilient Denver Nuggets, who crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. They will face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers starting Friday in Game 1.

But this was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against Utah before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7 again.

They made history, too, becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same postseason. As expected, Denver is an underdog against the Lakers. Murray & Co. are used to it.

“Everybody counts us out. It’s fun to silence everybody,” Murray said. “We love it.”

The last time the Nuggets were in the conference finals they faced the Lakers as well, losing in six games. That squad was coached by George Karl and boasted Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers were led by the late Kobe Bryant and would go on to win the NBA title over Orlando. This time, Denver features a play-making point guard in Murray and a center who thinks of himself as a point guard in Jokic.

Combined, they've helped the Nuggets go 6-0 in elimination games this postseason. Pressure doesn't bother them.

“It’s just fun, the journey,” Jokic said. “This is an interesting team. We don’t have many superstars.”

Actually, they have two burgeoning stars in Murray and Jokic. In the Game 7 win over the Clippers, Murray scored 40 points while Jokic finished with 16 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds.

The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit. They were down by double digits in Games 5, 6 and 7 but came back to win each time.

“We are not accepting that someone is better than us,” said Jokic, whose squad beat San Antonio last season in Game 7 before losing to Portland in seven games. “They really need to beat us and need to play much better than us. ... When we start playing for each other and you see the ball is flowing and the defense and everybody has everyone's back, it's really fun.”

Denver certainly quieted the noise around the Clippers, who hoped the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would lead them to their first-ever conference finals — and beyond. But LA’s stars fell flat.

“It hurts. It hurts. But we move on,” George said. “Year 1 together, first run together, of course we wanted to win this. But we’ve been very optimistic about us being together and building something going down the road.”

After a quick celebration Tuesday — of the win and coach Michael Malone's 49th birthday — the Nuggets will be ready to get back to business.

“We know what we got,” Murray said. “We're a top-four team in the league and we're trying to push to be No. 1. ... We've got a squad that we believe in each other and know we can go out there and win it.”


Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

Updated 26 October 2020

Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

ARLINGTON, United States: Brett Phillips’s single scored two runs and the Tampa Bay Rays walked off with a stunning 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday that knotted the World Series at two games apiece.
The Rays became the first team in post-season history to homer in four straight innings, but they trailed 7-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With two out and two on, Phillips — who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner — was down to his last strike in the ninth when he singled to right center field off Dodgers closing pitcher Kenley Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier scored from second base.
Randy Arozarena racing from first, rounded third after the ball bounced off the glove of Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor.
Arozarena tripped between third and home and looked done for, but Dodgers catcher Will Smith bobbled the throw to the plate and Arozarena was able to scramble forward and throw himself headfirst across the plate in time.
“Golly, what a special moment,” said Phillips, who last got a hit in the Rays’ 58th game of the regular season on September 25.
“I am having a hard time putting my emotions into words,” Phillips said. “Baseball is fun.”
Kiermaier called the ending — which sent the Rays into a frenzy of celebration on Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, “truly incredible.”
Arozarena notched a record-breaking ninth home run of the post-season. Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Lowe also homered for the Rays, who are seeking the first World Series title in franchise history.
The Dodgers, back in the World Series for a third time in four years after disappointments in 2017 and 2018, are seeking their seventh title — but a first since 1988.
“This is certainly a tough one,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They were the best team all year in the American League.
“They are not going to give anything away. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for tomorrow.”
The spectacular ending, capped a tense back-and-forth battle with a World Series record eight straight half-innings with a run scored.
Justin Turner and Corey Seager homered for the Dodgers. Seager’s was his eighth of the playoffs, temporarily tying the single post-season record until Arozarena notched his ninth in the fourth frame.
For the second game in a row Turner got things rolling with a solo homer in the first inning.
Seager added a solo shot in the top of the third that put the Dodgers up 2-0, but Arozarena pulled back a run in the bottom of the fourth with a lead-off blast to right centerfield off a 95 mph fastball from Julio Urias.
Los Angeles stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Seager singled off Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks and reached second on a wild pitch. With two outs in the inning Max Muncy reached first on a sharp line drive to right field that scored Seager.
The Rays responded with a home run from Renfroe to cut the margin to one run in the bottom of the fifth.
The Dodgers pushed the lead back to two in the top of the sixth when Enrique Hernandez fired a double down the left field line that scored two.
But Lowe — the two-homer hero of the Rays’ game-two victory — put the Rays in front for the first time with a three-run blast off Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Dodgers pinch-hitter Joc Pederson came up with the bases loaded and two out and delivered a two-run single that put Los Angeles back in front.
All seven Dodgers runs came with two outs — continuing a trend for them this series.
The Rays however, wouldn’t be denied, Kiermaier’s homer off Baez knotting the score at 6-6.
“We have no quit,” Kiermaier said. “We have been doing that all year. We’ve been the comeback kids. To do it on the big stage makes it that much sweeter.”