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The Nuggets kept their NBA playoff hopes alive in the most unbelievable way possible

This was a wild game Denver had no business winning, yet they did.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets kept their playoff hopes alive Sunday by the narrowest margins, overcoming a 16-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining and surviving a wild finish before beating the Milwaukee Bucks, 128-125, in overtime. The loss also buries the chances that Milwaukee could move up in the Eastern Conference standings.

Really, there’s no reason the Nuggets should have won. They wouldn’t have, in all likelihood, if Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t foul out with 3:43 left in the game. Denver was also shorthanded, missing both Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris. A loss would have dropped them two games out from the No. 8-seed New Orleans Pelicans, but instead, they remain just a game back.

Denver’s schedule isn’t easy. They have five games remaining, and those five all come against playoff teams or teams still in the chase — the Trail Blazers, the Clippers, the Pacers, and the Timberwolves twice. If the Nuggets win out, they’re in; Minnesota can’t finish with a better record if they lose twice. That leaves almost zero margin for error, but the Nuggets got one step closer thanks to Sunday’s shenanigans.

Here’s how it happened.

Nikola Jokic’s flop may have saved the season

I’ve watched this a dozen times, and I can’t see it any other way. Antetokounmpo extends his arm slightly, but he’s not pushing as much as warding off Jokic. (That’s still illegal, but it’s a gray area call that goes without a whistle more often than not.) As if he was hit with the power of a thousand suns, Jokic flies into the baseline. The referee rewards his performance. Here it is.

Milwaukee had been up 16 points with 5:29 left in the game, which is almost always a victory. But Denver had started to surge back — it was a 10-point game with 3:53 left when Milwaukee called a timeout. On the next play, Antetokounmpo drove into the lane, ran into Jokic, was called for the charge, and fouled out of the game with six. On top of that, a furious Antetokounmpo picked up a technical foul from yelling at the referee on his way off the court. Seeing as the game went to overtime, that point turned out to be rather important.

The Bucks still shouldn’t have blown this

With 1:06 left in the game, Milwaukee was up, 111-103. How did they lose this? Look at the win probability chart!

That’s basically zero. At its lowest point, Denver’s chances to win is 0.4 percent. But ...

  • Jamal Murray scored an and-one layup with 58 seconds left (111-106)
  • Khris Middleton missed a three-pointer
  • Murray’s jumper got blocked, but Denver rebounded it and Jokic scored in the paint (111-108)
  • Jabari Parker missed a two-pointer

So with 6.1 seconds left, Denver had a chance.

Jamal Murray saves the day

On the ensuing inbounds, the ball went to Paul Millsap and he straight up lost it out of bounds. It just went off his hands. For what seemed like the 30th time, Denver should have been down and out. And instead ...

Mistakes made by the Bucks on this play, ranked:
  • 5. Having 117-year-old Jason Terry on the court during a crucial play (and I love JET)
  • 4. Passing towards Denver’s hoop with just three seconds remaining.
  • 3. Throwing that pass at all, which was just hideous
  • 2. Fouling Murray on the shot. Yikes.
  • 1. Being the Bucks. This is so Bucks.

Murray knocked down all three free throws, because he’s a cold-blooded gunslinger.

Denver staved off Milwaukee in overtime

Despite being Antetokounmpo-less, Milwaukee almost surged back despite trailing by seven points with just 40 seconds left, thanks to Paul Millsap splitting a pair of free throws and Malik Beasley missing a couple. Milwaukee got a potentially game-tying three-point attempt from Jabari Parker, but it missed. Somehow, Denver won this one.

Denver’s chances to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight, is just 33 percent. Those are decent odds given where they stood just a week ago, but it’s still going to take a lot — especially since Gary Harris could miss another week still.

But if they had lost Sunday, their chances would have basically been cooked. At least, for their sake, the Nuggets are still alive.