How the Denver Nuggets Went Into the Bubble and Beat the Odds

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Published October 21, 2020
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The Montclarion
Jamal Murray shooting a free throw in a game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of All-Pro Reals

No matter what the deficit is in the playoffs, or the subpar performance in the seeding games, the Denver Nuggets always find a way to prove NBA fans wrong.

Going into the 2020 NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World and for the entirety of the season, the NBA media and their eccentric fanbase had their picks for the playoffs set.

In the Eastern Conference, people had the Milwaukee Bucks being crowned as champions. Others thought that the Boston Celtics or the red-hot Toronto Raptors could win the conference. On the flip side, some predicted that the Philadelphia 76ers would fold under pressure and not make it very deep into the playoffs.

People also made their predictions on the Western Conference. Some thought that Portland Trail Blazer point guard, Damian Lillard, would shock the league and make a run in the Western Conference with his team. Many assumed that the battle of Los Angeles would go down in the Western Conference finals, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers facing off.

With so many storylines, analytics and predictions coming out, there was one team usually left out of the big picture: the Denver Nuggets. Coached by Mike Malone, the team is led by young point/shooting guard star, Jamal Murray, known for his flamboyant shooting and clutch play.

Another who leads is center Nikola Jokic, known as “The Joker” for his simplistic movement and impressive court vision for a big man in the NBA. With other players like shooting guard Gary Harris, forward Jerami Grant, guard Monte Morris and forward/center Mason Plumlee coming off the bench, you would think more attention would be focused on Denver.

In the seeding games, which consisted of eight games that determined playoff spots in both conferences, the Nuggets were once again forgotten, but for a reason. They won just three of their eight games, only beating the underdog Oklahoma City Thunder, a San Antonio Spurs squad that has missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years and their future first round opponent, the Utah Jazz.

The Nuggets also went on to lose to top contenders like the Miami Heat and the Lakers. Denver’s struggles in the seeding games made it seem like they were just a minute puddle to the dominant Los Angeles teams and the rest of the Western Conference.

It took a while, but the Nuggets gained the respect they deserved all along, but not without a lot of energy, crazy plays and interesting games.

It started in the first round of the playoffs as Denver faced Utah, who had the dominant duo of shooting guard Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert.

In the beginning of the series, Mitchell, known as “Spida Man,” and Gobert seemed to have a grasp of the series, alongside guards Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson. When Denver went down three games to one against the Jazz, everybody presumed the series to be over. That was everybody’s first mistake with this team in the playoffs.

After Murray and Mitchell scored 50 points each, making NBA postseason history, Murray took control of the game, uplifting his teammates and making the shots that he was paid to make. After it was finally tied at three games apiece, game seven was anyone’s game, and Murray and Jokic did their thing for most of it.

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets setting up to take a free throw in a game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of All-Pro Reals

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets setting up to take a free throw in a game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 4, 2020.
Photo courtesy of All-Pro Reals

It all came down to the final seconds. Mitchell got the ball stolen, which led to forward/guard Torrey Craig running the other way and going up for a layup, which he missed. This then led Conley, in desperation, to take the open three pointer as the buzzer went off. The ball went in and out, and Mitchell, in despair, watched his season end, as the unthinkable happened and the Nuggets moved on to the next round.

The Clippers awaited the Nuggets in the second round and once again, people immediately counted out the Nuggets. The Clippers have high-tier stars in forward/guard Kawhi Leonard, forward Paul George, star defensive guard Patrick Beverly and more offensive firepower with guard Lou Williams and forward/center Montrezl Harrell. On paper, it seemed like a lost cause for Denver.

It was similar to the Jazz series. Leonard was playing like his usual bionic self, George was playing extremely well, living up to his nickname “Playoff P.” Beverly was drawing fouls and talking trash like he usually does, and Harrell was being aggressive in the paint.

The Clippers were dominating the series initially, taking a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. The pattern had once again repeated. Fans counted out the Nuggets as they were on the brink of elimination. Denver made sure to wake up and prove people wrong once again.

All of a sudden, Leonard was not scoring 20 points per game, George was taking corner threes that hit the side of the backboard, Beverly was flopping and the Clippers became lethargic and did not look like themselves. Denver played with more energy, and Jokic helped add to Murray’s stellar play with his great passes, smart offensive play and a strong defensive presence.

The Clippers have not reached a conference finals series in a half-century, and this streak continued in 2020. With head coach, Doc Rivers, the Clippers blew their 3-1 playoff lead and the Nuggets pulled off the unthinkable once again.

In the Western Conference finals, the Nuggets went up against the Lakers, who were led by forward LeBron James and forward/center Anthony Davis. Once again, it was the presumption that James and Davis were too good for the Nuggets, along with their stellar center play from Javale McGee and center/forward Dwight Howard, the resurgence of point guard Rajon Rondo and center/forward Markieff Morris.

In the first two games, the Lakers were dominant as they took a 2-0 lead in the series. The second game was close as the Nuggets mounted a great comeback, but it was cut short by Davis, who hit a buzzer-beater to seal the game for the Lakers.

When the third game rolled around, the basketball community was shocked by the Nuggets’ performance. Murray had a double-double, Grant scored 26 points off of the bench, Morris could not miss a mid-range shot and the Lakers were flustered.

The Lakers made a lot of questionable decisions toward the end of the game, throwing the ball away and taking contested shots, with most of them missing the basket in the process. The Nuggets switched the momentum in the series as they won the third game, cutting the Lakers series lead to 2-1. The Nuggets had a chance to do some damage to a team destined for greatness, led by James, who wants to be on the level of Michael Jordan.

In the end, the Nuggets brought the series to 3-2, but the Lakers were too much to handle. Foul trouble put Denver in a tough situation, as they lost the series 4-2.

After such a promising season, Denver was eliminated and the Lakers moved on to face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Next season, nobody should count out the Nuggets and make the same mistake again.

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