When the Denver Nuggets took Games Three and Four so so easily in Miami, I knew that it would be over. I was looking forward to Game Five, because it was back in Denver's Ball Arena, and the Nuggets have a good chance to clinch their very first NBA Championship on their home court. To be honest, I expected the Nuggets to flat out demolish the Miami Heat--you know, just get it over with and celebrate.
The Heat, however, had other plans.
To my surprise, the Heat really gave the Nuggets quite the scare in the entire first half, leading by two after one quarter and actually leading by seven at halftime. Now, I knew that the Heat would not win three straight in this Finals. Only one team in NBA history had comeback from down 3-1 to win the Finals, so there was no way the Heat could do this. However, one win at a time could get it done, and at least force Game Six back in Miami.
The Nuggets, however, had other plans.
The Nuggets started to claw back in the third period, and while the Heat still had a lead entering the fourth quarter, a tide was starting to turn. The fourth quarter was wild and crazy, and back and forth. Denver took the lead and built it up, but we saw some controversy in the latter half of the quarter. With the Heat down four, Jimmy Butler was apparently fouled by Aaron Gordon in the act of shooting a three-pointer. The replay clearly showed that no contact was made, but after a challenge, the call was upheld. Butler made all three free throws to cut Miami's deficit to one, and they actually led late, but Denver fought back and took their lead back, and never relented. The long wait was over. It was time to celebrate.
Final score: Nuggets 94, Heat 89.
Let me tell you a little story that involves another sport. I am a diehard Colorado Avalanche fan, and it's because of the Avs that I'm fascinated by the state of Colorado. For so long, the Avalanche and Nuggets have shared that same arena: Ball Arena (formerly known as the Pepsi Center). As the years went by, my fandom of hockey and the Avs reached a point where I felt that the Nuggets weren't even worthy of playing in the same place as the Avs (I've even said that the Avs should ban the Nuggets from playing in Ball Arena). That tribalism increased big time after the Avs won last year. I've said that the Nuggets were embarrassing the state of Colorado. I've even said Nikola Jokic was embarrassing the state of Colorado.
Nice to see myself proven dead wrong.
Jokic scored 600 points in the entire playoffs, and led the playoffs in the three main triple-double categories. Without question, he won the Finals MVP, though honestly, the NBA could have given him the Conn Smythe treatment and named him as the MVP of the entire playoffs. So yeah, Jokic definitely belongs on that Mount Rushmore in Colorado sports: for me it would be Jokic, Joe Sakic, Nathan MacKinnon, and John Elway.
Ever since the 2020 bubble, Nuggets fans have said that if Jamal Murray was healthy, Denver would have won then. Well, this year definitely proved that. It's funny. I've spent so much time not respecting the Nuggets, and it took this year's West Finals for me to see that the last four seasons for both the Nuggets and Avalanche have been so similar. Another similarity that last year's Avs and this year's Nuggets share: both teams went 16-4 in the playoffs. The Nuggets dispatched of the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games, the heavyweight Phoenix Suns in six games, swept the Los Angeles Lakers, and won the Finals in five games over the Miami Heat. What a run!
Speaking of the Miami Heat, what a run for them as well! The second #8 seed to reach the Finals, and the first play-in team to ever do so. Even crazier: the Heat actually lost the first play-in game (for the #7 seed) to start their run. It was amazing what the Heat did this year, but when it came to the Finals, the Nuggets were just too much for them. The Heat have a lot to be proud of, and they should really drink in this run--it's definitely one to remember.
So Denver is celebrating for the second straight year; last year, it was the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup, and this year's it's the Nuggets winning their first-ever NBA Championship. The Nuggets became the second of the four former ABA franchises to win an NBA Championship, with the San Antonio Spurs becoming the first in 1999. Time will tell if the Nuggets can do it again, but for now, the city of Denver has to do 46 years' worth of celebrating.
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