Nuggets make Denver a sneaker city with first trip to NBA Finals in 47 years

DENVER (AP) — It took 3,787 regular season games and 29 trips to the playoffs, countless rainbow uniform scams and even more “yeah, buts” than any city should. have to bear. Finally, after 47 seasons on an entertaining, often frustrating, and almost always overlooked journey in the NBA, Denver is at the center of the basketball world.

The Nuggets — yes, those sometimes adorable, often forgettable Nuggets — are in the NBA Finals.

The way they did it speaks volumes about their nearly half a century in the league, and how different this team is from all the Denver teams, even the very good ones, that came before it.

The Nuggets swept away their longtime insignificance by completing their first sweep in 44 NBA playoffs. They did it against the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that caused them so much pain. Heading into the Western Conference Finals, Denver was 0-7 in the playoffs against the Lakers. Now Denver is 1-7.

“It’s almost like a bit of a shock,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said, echoing a sentiment certainly felt by the franchise’s long-suffering fan base. “You’re just unsure, like, are you sure we’re out of time on the clock? Are you sure we don’t have another quarter to play or another game to play?”

With all due respect to Dan Issel, Alex English, Carmelo Anthony and anyone who’s ever worn rainbows, Nikola Jokic is the best player to don a Denver uniform. He recorded his eighth playoff triple-double in Monday night’s 113-111 win over LA, surpassing a record for a single postseason held by none other than Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain.

Jokic, who was 0.2 assists short of a triple-double this season, was beaten for his third straight MVP this season by Philly’s Joel Embiid. Fans see it all as a journey through a city where the team that debuted in the ABA as the Denver Rockets — not the more well-known and respected Denver Broncos — really set the city on the national sports card. It was 1967. The Broncos were still a laughing stock, but the local basketball team came out with a good product right away.

It was good enough to make the Nuggets a no-brainer when the ABA folded in 1976 and the NBA cut through the wreckage to invite a few teams to join.

Between yesterday and today, the city has had its share of glory. John Elway brought home two Super Bowl titles and Peyton Manning another. The Colorado Avalanche, who share a home (Ball Arena) and owner (Stan Kroenke) with the Nuggets, have won the Stanley Cup in hockey three times, including last year. Even the Colorado Rockies made the World Series. The Nuggets’ only trip this close to the title came in 1976 when they lost in the final ABA final to Julius Erving and the Nets.

David Thompson; Larry Brown; Doug Moe; English; Issel; Anthony; George Karl; Allen Iverson; Chauncey Billups. All of these coaches and players spent time in Denver. No one has ever come too close to that NBA title trophy here. Prior to this week, Denver made the NBA Conference Finals four times and lost all four.

This conspired to make the place little more than flyover territory – a high-altitude city that schedulers often fit into other teams’ itineraries as part of long road trips with more exciting final destinations – LA, New York, Miami.

But Denver? It was a great place to take a night off — or, more diplomatically, for teams to exercise the 21st century NBA practice of “load management” for their best players.

While NBA titles and the fanfare that comes with them have been built on the shoulders of megastars for decades, the Nuggets have never been part of that scene.

In fact, Jokic was the exact opposite of that when he arrived in 2014. He was more of a pasty second-round draft pick known only to insiders who followed the Serbian hoops scene.

“Everybody’s crazy about his stats, but I don’t think a lot of people talk about, like, that part of his game,” Lakers’ LeBron James said after the sweep, as he pointed to his head, indicating Jokic’s mastery. of the cerebral part of the hoops. “Maybe we don’t talk about him, because a lot of people don’t understand him, but I do. He’s special.

As great as Jokic has been, it was the addition of another under-the-radar player, guard Jamal Murray, and his return to full health that helped this team rise to the top.

Murray was a Kentucky lottery pick in 2016, the year Ben Simmons was the No. 1 pick and considered the next big thing in the NBA. Murray exploded in the bubble during COVID, taking Denver to a Finals streak, only to see the Lakers choke out another season. He missed the next two playoffs with a devastating knee injury. These playoffs, Murray feels good. He averaged 32.5 points in Los Angeles’ four-game sweep.

“I think our chemistry is at an all-time high, the way we play, the way we read the game without even talking,” Murray said. “We speak this language on the pitch.

“It’s just beautiful basketball, honestly.”

With the Nuggets in their first NBA Finals in all these years, it will be hard to find anyone in Denver who would dispute that.


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