It took the basketball team, located on the plateau just east of the Rocky Mountains, 56 years and 38 playoff appearances to finally reach the pinnacle of the sport.
The game was joined by an unheralded center from Serbia, who has become one of the most formidable players in the game, and a Canadian point guard who has found himself again after a long and difficult recovery from a career-threatening knee injury. It took patience, cooperation, and a discipline born of learning how to try, fail, and keep climbing a little higher.
The Denver Nuggets are NBA champions.
On Monday night, they won their first title in franchise history on their home court at Ball Arena, 5,280 feet above sea level. This is the highest elevation ever to win an NBA championship. They won Game 5 by beating the Miami Heat 94-89. They were led by center Nikola Jokic, who stood quietly at the back of the stage holding his 1-year-old daughter as the team celebrated at the trophy presentation, crying as they looked up at the thousands of spectators. It was Jamal Murray, the point guard who passed. The number of fans screaming for him. The rest of Denver’s indomitable eight-man rotation reinforced the team’s two biggest stars to the finish line.
As the crowd roared and confetti flew around him, Nuggets coach Michael Malone yelled, “I have news for everyone out there.” “I can’t be satisfied with just one! I want more! I want more!”
Jokic was named the Most Valuable Player of the Finals, a perfect complement to his two MVP awards in the regular season. He finished Game 5 with 28 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, becoming the first player in NBA history to lead the playoffs in points, rebounds and assists.
“If you want to be successful, you need a few years,” Jokic said. “If you have to be evil, you have to be good.
“I think the experience is not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.”
The decisive match was neither clean nor easy. Through his first third quarter, the Nuggets struggled to make 3-point shots or free throws. They flipped the ball carelessly. If we lost, we would have had to play Game 6 in Miami on Thursday. The pressure of Monday may have worn your nerves down.
“All the fans want to finish the game on their home court with their families,” Murray said. “You really want to finish on your home court.”
The Heat were leading by seven points at halftime, but were leading by just one point at the end of the third quarter.
But in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets were determined to win the title. With about 10 minutes and 59 seconds remaining, Murray hit a 3-point shot (the Nuggets’ third of the game) to give the Nuggets a 4-point lead. He leaped across the court as the Heat called a timeout. It was Denver’s biggest lead since the first quarter.
Murray then attacked again. This time Aaron Gordon blocked heat guard Kyle Lowry’s jumper, which led to Murray’s transition basket, giving the Nuggets a five-point lead.
Then, with less than 30 seconds remaining, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stole a pass from Jimmy Butler and scored two free throws after a Lowry foul to give Denver a three-point lead.
“I am grateful to have come this far,” Butler said afterwards. “The results were not as good, but I am blessed. I am lucky.”
The win left the Nuggets out of questionable clubs. Currently, there are only 10 teams in the league that have never won an NBA championship. Most recently, five teams have reached the finals and lost, including the Phoenix Suns, who lost three times in 2021.
But the Nuggets never quite got there, at least not in the NBA. They reached the championship series for the first time since losing to the New York Nets in the 1976 National Basketball Association finals.
The long drought helps explain why the Nuggets were underrated all season. Pundits and oddsmakers questioned their ability to win, even after taking first place in the Western Conference in December and never letting it go.
People wondered if Jokic would be able to lead the team this far despite his stellar play – after all, he had never led the Nuggets to the conference finals. Those questions may have cost him a third consecutive MVP award, but many say the credit should go only to champions.
Some wondered if Murray would ever return to the elite level he played in 2021, but a knee injury just before the playoffs left Murray and Denver on a two-year journey before completely resetting. Became.
Along the way, some roleplayers have found their own progress, even if it received little attention.
Caldwell-Pope, whom the Nuggets acquired in a trade last offseason, added defense, shooting and championship experience. In a few playoff games, he brought a ring he won with the Lakers in 2020 and let his teammates hold it. nobody has
Caldwell Pope said after the game, “Because of my championship, they gave me the opportunity to be a leader. I speak up, my experience and how we’re getting to where we are now.” I want them to know how hard it is to do it.” 1. “I’m just trying to keep them motivated.”
Gordon, who was traded to the Nuggets in March 2021, was the Orlando Magic’s offensive star, but fortunately turned into a defensive stopper.
“I’m not here for honor,” Gordon said. “I am here to win.”
Bruce Brown provided an aggressive spark. Jeff Green added a veteran poise. Rookie Christian Brown displayed a youthful, fearless play that paid off in the final.
The Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round and then beat the Suns in six games. They swept the Lakers in the conference finals and then waited a week to decide who they would face in the finals.
Like the Nuggets, the Heat had a 3-0 lead in the Conference Finals series. However, they staggered as the Boston Celtics fought back in the East, winning the next three games and forcing a decisive Game 7.
“When Boston won Game 6, we sat for so long that I thought we weren’t in the playoffs anymore,” Green said. “Because we were only watching over them.”
Driven by relentless star Butler, Miami won Game 7, this time reaching the finals for the franchise’s seventh time as the No. 8 seed. A win would give Miami its first title in a decade, but it was a much more unexpected win than their previous three.
If people ignored Denver this season, they completely ignored Miami. The Heat narrowly made it to the playoffs, but their stumbling block against Boston cast skepticism even among their most devoted followers. When Denver first seemed to have the world on their side, they had an themselves-versus-the-worlds mentality heading into the final.
And if that boost of confidence has flowed into the Nuggets’ heads, who can blame them?
Denver won Game 1 and Jokic made a triple-double. The Nuggets then began celebrating as if they felt the victory parade already ringing. Despite Jokic scoring 41 points in Game 2, he lost focus and allowed Miami to steal. Denver coach Malone chided the Nuggets and questioned their efforts. He won’t have to do that anymore.
Jokic and Murray each achieved triple-doubles in Game 3 in front of a rowdy crowd in Miami. In Game 4, Brown scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to fuel Miami’s despair.
After Game 4, the Nuggets’ locker room had some unusual visitors. Nuggets owner E. Stanley Kroenke and his son, team chairman Josh Kroenke, each held a can of Coors and smiled brightly. The Nuggets had just led 3-1 in the finals and felt the franchise’s first championship was on the horizon. Only one of the finalists, his team, the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, has ever managed to get out of that deep hole.
However, Nuggets players and coaches refused to acknowledge how close they were. They remembered what happened after Game 1.
“We need another win,” Jokic said after Game 4. we were not comfortable. We were still hopeless. we still want it. “
Murray showed a little more confidence. “We are just ready to win the championship,” he said. “We have the tools to make it happen. It’s been on our minds for a while.”
When Murray finally took the stage after winning Game 5, ESPN’s Lisa Salters spoke about Murray’s journey so far and how two years ago today he couldn’t even walk because of a knee injury. asked about The cheers of her crowd drowned out her voice as she spoke. Murray stopped and looked up at them. Tears filled his reddened eyes.
“Everything went right at once,” Murray later said. “From the trip, to the celebrations with his peers, to the enjoyment of the moment, to reflections on his rehab, to reflections on himself as a child.”
Malone’s mind was already on the next championship.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley, nine-time NBA champion as a player, assistant coach, head coach and executive, once shared with Malone a message Malone once posted in his office. .
“We were told about the evolution of this game and how it goes from unmanned to upstart, upstart to winner, winner to candidate, and candidate to champion,” Malone said. “And the final step is for champions to become dynasties.”
But his players weren’t ready to think about it yet. As he spoke, they poured champagne in the locker room and at each other, with drops of champagne pouring down from the Nuggets logo on the ceiling. The players lit their cigars and the thick scent of cigar smoke added to the celebration.
Jokic walked in and out of the locker room, sometimes spraying champagne on his teammates, sometimes directly on their heads. He said many times during the playoffs that he was most proud of the success they achieved together.
He was the first player to go off the court after the trophy was awarded, heading to the locker room alone with the Finals MVP trophy. He was the team’s best player all season, but he wasn’t swallowed by the ecstasy that engulfed his teammates.
When asked how he felt after winning, Jokic replied, “It was good.” “We did our job.”
Another reporter asked again a few minutes later, this time whether the city was excited about the victory parade.
“When’s the parade?” Jokic said, turning to the Nuggets staff in the room.
he was told it was thursday.
“No,” Jokic lamented. “I have to go home.”
Then he finally loosened up a bit and admitted that it felt “great” to win the championship.
“It feels good to know that I did something that no one believes in. It’s just us, it’s just the organization. The Denver Nuggets believe in us, all the players believe in each other,” Jokic said. there is,” he said. “And I think that’s the most important thing.”