Photo via SB Nation
The Denver Nuggets this season made history, becoming the first team ever in a NBA postseason to win multiple series after trailing 3-1. They were eliminated in five games in the Western Conference Finals to their nemesis in the Los Angeles Lakers, who have beaten the Nuggets in all three of their trips to the conference finals.
Despite this, I was very satisfied with the Nuggets’ performance this season and especially in the playoffs. In 2019, the Nuggets lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Portland Trail Blazers after a hard-fought seven-game series. This included a four-overtime loss in Game 4 at Portland and a Game 7 loss at home where they blew a 17-point lead in the second quarter and lost 100-96 after shooting 2-19 from three.
It was a devastating loss but the optimism was there as the Nuggets were built to last with a young core as they made the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season when Andre Iguodala was the star of the team. After a disappointing tenure under Brian Shaw, the Nuggets began to rebuild under Mike Malone. Jamal Murray was drafted seventh-overall in 2016 and Nikola Jokic was drafted 41st overall in 2015.
These two have blossomed in a dynamic duo and heading into the 2019-20 season, improvement was expected, although they had to contend with reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers and the LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led Lakers. The Nuggets proved to be a step below them as they finished third in the Western Conference at 46-27.
They were matched up with the Utah Jazz in the first round and Murray broke out in superstardom as he dueled Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell got the upper hand as the Jazz led 3-1. Murray needed to step up and keep his team alive. He did so with 42 and 50 points in Games 5 and 6. The Nuggets outlasted the Jazz in an ugly Game 7, where the Nuggets won 80-78. This was a scary game to watch after the Nuggets blew a 24-point lead and struggled to make shots down the stretch. I felt relief after Mike Conley’s last-gasp shot clanked off the rim and prepared for the Nuggets to battle the Clippers, a series in which the Nuggets were not expected to win.
As predicted, the Clippers proved to be superior in the first four games, winning three of the four games by a combined 40 points. The Clippers had the chance to finish off the Nuggets in Games 5 and 6 but Denver refused to quit as they rallied from 15- and 19-point deficits respectively to force a Game 7.
In Game 7, they had a chance to exercise the demons of the Portland disappointment and make it to their first Western Conference Finals since 2009. They rallied from another double-digit deficit and in the fourth quarter, pulled away from the Clippers to win 104-89. It was the happiest moment in my 10+ years rooting for the team as they not only rallied from two 3-1 deficits but knocked off the reigning finals MVP.
On top of being the first team in NBA history to rally from multiple 3-1 deficits in the postseason, they were only the third team to do in the four major U.S sports (1985 Kansas City Royals and 2003 Minnesota Wild).
They lost in five games to the Lakers, including a Game 2 which saw Davis hit a buzzer-beater to put the series at 2-0 for the Lakers. Despite winning Game 3, that shot felt like a death blow to the Nuggets championship hopes.
They lost but I am proud of this team. They were as resilient as any team I have ever seen in sports. Despite frustrations at times from the role players, free-agent acquisition Jerami Grant, Gary Harris and rising phenom Michael Porter Jr. stepped and were instrumental in the Nuggets’ deep postseason run. The loss to Portland feels nothing but a distant memory and the future is bright.
Jokic and Murray put in fantastic performances this postseason, proving they are bona-fide stars in this league and the supporting players give the team great depth.
They have more work to do to take the next step and reach their first NBA Finals in team history. They must add another legit scoring option to support Jokic and Murray if they are to overcome the superstars of the Western Conference. Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo and Washington Wizards’ star guard Bradley Beal are options.
For now, I am satisfied with the excitement and success the Nuggets provided this postseason. I had a blast watching the Nuggets on this journey and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.