The 2020 Denver Nuggets are the only team in NBA history to force a Game 7 in back-to-back series after trailing 3-1, ultimately winning both times. It’s as if they put themselves in that position on purpose to unleash some of the most memorable runs. After beating the Los Angeles Clippers in a pivotal seventh game 104-89, getting to this point wasn’t easy.
After losing franchise player Carmelo Anthony in 2011, it seemed like the organization faced an overwhelming amount of time to get back to the playoffs. Not only were they able to make multiple postseason appearances afterward, though, but they also put themselves acquired one of the most reliable duos that are still far from their peak.
Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have not only lifted the Nuggets as serious title contenders. The two have also successfully revitalized a franchise that was missing its identity.
Mining the Golden Nuggets
The team aims to do what Anthony was unable to accomplish: win a championship. However, without the one-man show tactics, but rather, to make their yearly progression more tangible.
It took Anthony six years from the daft to reach the Western Conference Finals. A series where his team fell to a Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 back in 2009.
Unfortunately, in his tenure as a Nugget, that’s the pinnacle of his achievements with the franchise and in his career. For the next four years, Denver was a first-round exit under former head coach George Karl.
For current head coach Mike Malone and NBA bubble superstar Murray, it took four years as a coach-player duo to reach the same milestone. The Nuggets drafted Murray in 2016, the same year that the franchise newly appointed Malone for the head coaching position.
The franchise’s winning percentage saw a progressive trend over the years since these acquisitions. Especially notable was one of the most notable turnarounds in league history, finishing as the ninth seed in 2018, only to come back as the second seed the year after.
Denver’s Premature Prime Leap
It’s impressive to see the rapid improvement this squad accomplished since their puzzle’s core pieces arrived. However, there are facts even more impressive.
Some experts perceive that a player doesn’t reach his prime until 27.
Jokic is 25, and Murray is 23.
This youth signals not only a promising future for the franchise and these two elite individuals, but it is also indicating a future association with greatness.
The two have reached prime statistics so early on in their young careers with numbers that match up with some of the greats already.
Murray averages 27.1 points on an ultra-efficient 50% from the field and 49% shooting from beyond the arc. He is one of four players (Donovan Mitchell, Allen Iverson, and Michael Jordan) to score multiple 50 point games in a playoff series. The former Kentucky Wildcat also single-handedly outscored both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined in their final showdown 40 to 24.
He outperformed two players with much more playoff experience than him and a championship pedigree.
For The Joker, the Serbian native averages an absurd 25.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. All while shooting 51.5% from the field a night. He is probably the best example of the new age big man. He can not only play down low but also incredibly difficult shots beyond the arc while bringing up the ball like a point guard. Even though he may lack the athleticism of a guard, his sneaky play proves deadly. He had his first-ever triple-double in game seven against the Clippers through only three quarters in a winner-take-all contest (his 41st overall).
Nuggets Heard Doubters But Never Listened
Malone showed high praise for his ball club after their second-round series win.
He stated, “All the guys committed, never got down, believed in each other. Believed in themselves. In light of all the noise outside of this series that we had no chance. We had people guaranteeing it. And we found a way to be a really good team…We have a special group…We know we’re playing a very talented and well-rested Lakers team. But I do know this; our guys are up for that challenge.”
Murray had some words of his own, directed towards the people that doubted their ability.
"All y'all better start giving this team some damn respect."
Jamal Murray calls out the media after Game 7. pic.twitter.com/GqOuFfJwYU
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 16, 2020
As the road to the team’s first Larry O’Brien trophy keeps zoning in, the world will see what they’re made of. Especially against a Lakers team that’s making incredible noise themselves.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is on Friday.