The Denver Nuggets mascot, Rocky, was an anthropomorphic puma with a lightning bolt on his tail that ran around dragging a pickaxe, trying to figure out what was causing the chatter. He had to keep his voice down. They neglected his team.
For weeks, the Nuggets dominated the NBA playoffs. And for weeks, they thought, no one in the news media did them justice. That wasn’t the case when they defeated Minnesota and Phoenix in their first two rounds. That wasn’t the case when they swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Now Rocky was ready to take revenge on them – metaphorically at least. in the video The Nuggets played Thursday night during a break in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone lamented national sports coverage during the conference finals in an audio montage that drew scorn from pundits. “And everyone was talking about the Lakers!” he said, shortly before Rocky found the TV in the room and smashed it with a pickaxe. He continued banging until the video showed a framed photo of an unidentified Lakers player lying shattered on the ground.
Denver’s finals opponents, the Miami Heat, weren’t doing so well at the start of Thursday’s championship round. The Nuggets won 104-93 with a maximum lead of 24 points. They entered the series as big favorites in unfamiliar positions.
“Even if we win, they talk about the other team,” said Nuggets guard Jamal Murray. He added, “It gives us a little more energy and it will be even better when we win chips.”
Neither the top-seeded Nuggets in the West nor the eighth-seeded Heat in the East feel their abilities are being sufficiently respected in the postseason, and both teams are motivated by that. Turning perceived disrespect into fuel is a common technique in sports, even when the disrespect is merely an imagination, or perhaps even taken for granted.
Michael Jordan scorned the subject of his speech when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, referring to the time he was cut from his high school’s varsity team. Later in his career, Jordan said he was ridiculed in March 1993 after scoring 37 points in a game between Washington and the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, faking a moment of disrespect by an opponent named Bradford Smith. rice field. Intending to humiliate Smith, Jordan scored 47 points in the game the next night in Washington.
Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal often told the story of how he ignored Spurs great David Robinson for his autograph when he was younger. He said the cynicism motivated his playing career, but later admitted it wasn’t.
“David, I want to apologize for making up that rumor,” O’Neill said during an NBA videoconference in May 2020, nine years after his retirement. Robinson, who was on the phone, burst into laughter.
The reality was that while Jordan and O’Neal were making up offensive stories, the Miami Heat were being ignored.
Miami slipped into the postseason, which is why few expected them to do so well. They lost the first game of the play-in tournament, but won the second game in sudden death to advance to the playoffs as the eighth seed.
When Miami faced the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra disputed the press coverage the team received during the regular season.
“I don’t think anyone pays much attention,” Spoelstra said when asked why the team kept believing in them despite their struggles. He added: “Whether or not it translates into confidence, sometimes you lack confidence. But at least you have been through things and understand how difficult it can be.”
The Heat defeated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs and the Celtics in the conference finals to win a decisive Game 7 in Boston.
Even in that series, they showed why people were skeptical. With a 3-0 series lead against Boston, the Celtics treated themselves like underdogs. But then the Heat turned the ball over and struggled offensively, losing three in a row. That would be expected from an eighth seed against an experienced team like the Celtics, who made it to the NBA Finals last season.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have consistently maintained the strength of two-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic’s all-around play. Murray’s dynamic scoring and passing. The fluid offense and hustle of role players like Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They’re the best team in the West since December.
But still, as Malone and Murray put it, it felt like a lot of the attention from the news media and basketball fans was going to, well, other people. like the lakers.
There is another example of the prevalence of using perceived disrespect as motivation. The Lakers did it too. Lakers coach Durbin Hamm often reminded the team that few believe they can make the playoffs early in the season. He did not say that the lack of belief in their abilities was due to performance, not prejudice. The Lakers started the season 2-10 and played consistently well for the first time after overhauling their roster in January and February.
This motivational technique worked all the way up to the conference finals against the Nuggets.
The Heat took another sharp turnaround. Their best player, Jimmy Butler, is known for improving his play in the postseason, beating his expectations round after round to reach the finals.
Perhaps that’s why the Nuggets don’t give the Heat a chance to feel slighted.
“Who said we were favorites?” Jokic said Wednesday. “media?”
He was told the Nuggets were among the favorites in Las Vegas betting odds.
“I don’t think we are the favorites,” Jokic said, adding that he felt more comfortable as an underdog. “I don’t think there are any favorites in the final. This is going to be the hardest match of our lives and I know that.”
For the most part, it wasn’t the hardest match of their lives. The Nuggets took a 24-point lead in the third quarter and used their size advantage to upset the Heat.
But as the Nuggets expected, Miami fought back. The Heat cut the Nuggets’ lead to 9 points with 2 minutes and 34 seconds left in the game. At other times in the postseason, Miami used a combination of defensive techniques that contributed to their come-from-behind victory when their opponents felt they could safely ignore them.
“We knew they would,” Murray said. “That’s how they play, that’s how they win games. In that sense, it’s unforgiving.”
The Nuggets were often inspired by belittling themselves and understood the dangers of belittling others.