DENVER – The clocks are ticking, after a long and fruitless basketball drought in town, and into the 2023 NBA Finals. Ball Arena, so aptly named, begins to shiver inside. Something is about to happen. Everyone feels it, knows it.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took the ball, watched the seconds remaining and started dribbling, dribbling, dribbling. And just before the whistle blew, he grabbed the ball and threw it into the sky. No one is still sure where it landed, or whether it landed.
All that matters is that the Denver Nuggets ended up being the champion. And as new champions do, grown men begin to behave like children released at recess. Jamal Murray dropped to one knee and stood up. Aaron Gordon covered his head with both hands and made a surprised expression as he staggered on the floor.
And Nikola Jokic, NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, found his two brothers, said something in their native Serbian – one of those words was definitely “love” – then hugged and kissed. their cheeks.
Here are your Nuggets, who were crowned after the tense, suspenseful Game 5, as they overcame the Heat and Jimmy Butler’s late rush, and overcame their shaky 3-point shot, and again in favor of Jokic, who dropped 28 points and bounced 16 times in victory.
The Nuggets won 94-89, ending the series in five games, and so there really was no doubt. The Nuggets, one of only four teams that survived the ABA merger in 1976, the team that had never even made it to the NBA Finals in their entire existence until now, made money on the trip. their first.
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This is for coaches Michael Malone, Jokic, KCP, Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., and the Nuggets fans who have waited so long.
But this goes for David Thompson, too, who put Nuggets basketball on the map. It’s for coach Doug Moe and the entertainment teams he coached in the 1980s and early ’90s. For Fat Lever, the 6-foot-3 keeper who accidentally dropped a triple triple Last time Jokic.
And to the great Nuggets scorers Alex English and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and finally to Dikembe Mutombo clutching the ball after a crushing defeat to top seed Seattle Super Sonics in 1994 during the franchise’s liveliest post-season. Until now.
Here are five takeaways from Game 5 and the first NBA champion from the Western Conference since 1979 that isn’t from California or Texas:
1. How are champions made?
The seed for this team was built, at random, with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. By now, you know the story: Nikola Jokic became the Greatest Draft pick. in NBA history.
But the incredible story of building Nuggets 2022-23 doesn’t end there. Take the case of Murray. Denver picked him in seventh place overall in the 2016 draft. That pick came from the Knicks in the late-February 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade, a trade that was then and is now a bad move by New York. ‘Melo switched to free agency that summer and the Knicks could have him for free (with compensation) if they waited. The Knicks GM at the time, Donnie Walsh, was adamantly opposed to sending the player and chose two more months for Anthony. But owner James Dolan stepped in and essentially made the transaction himself; Walsh passed away that summer.
There’s more: Gordon was part of the Orlando fire sale (Nikola Vucevic went to the Bulls). The Nuggets included in the 2025 top-protected first-person package will likely fall at the end of the first round.
Porter dropped to the Nuggets in 14th place in 2018 because of back problems, otherwise he would have made the top 5. No one wants Bruce Brown to have free agency last summer, and Caldwell-Pope from the Wizards for Monte Morris and Will Barton in a role swap that benefits Denver more than Washington.
“I feel really lucky because our journey has been a journey of patience, a journey of really good sketching and developing those players, then adding the right pieces around them, ‘ Malone said. “Everybody does it differently. Some teams want to mortgage their future and go get players for sure. For us, there is never a rush mentality. That starts with ownership. The Kroenke family has been a phenomenon since day one allowing this thing to work on its own and not overreact to bumps in the road. I think many teams will try to turn this into a blueprint.”
This is the work of Tim Connelly (now in Minnesota), Arturas Karnisovas (Chicago) and the current GM Calvin Booth. The Nuggets chose to draft and buy key players and never deviated from the blueprint, even as Porter and Murray dealt with injuries at the end of the season. They just patiently waited for those players to recover, and here they are.
“I knew if we wanted to win in Denver, which had never happened before, we were going to have to try something different,” said Josh Kroenke, president of the Nuggets. “We’ve tried to do that through continuity and growth and it’s been spectacular. We have achieved our goal.”
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2. The Kroenke family wins again
It’s good to be part of the team that owns the new NBA champion, because winning a championship is nothing new for president Stanley Kroenke, his wife Ann Walton Kroenke, and son Josh. Kroenke Sports and Entertainment – the official name of the ownership group – controls the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, and now has a Super Bowl title, a Stanley Cup title and an NBA title, all from the past two years.
Yes, America’s Sports First Family is worth billions of dollars, but what is the money without championships, one of the primary goals of investing in sports property?
Josh Kroenke oversees the day-to-day work of the Nuggets and is in the habit of hiring the right people to run the organization. When Masai Ujiri left the Toronto Raptors, the Nuggets elevated Connelly to GM. When Connelly left the Timberwolves last summer, Booth became the curator. And Malone was added after he was fired from the Kings.
Josh Kroenke said: “Playing against the best teams in the world in other sports is always exciting and so when you can win it’s a great feeling because you’re going up against other players. Another great organization. “Miami Heat is classy in every way, from Mickey Arison to Pat Riley, they are the people we strive to be. In the end to be able to win a win means a lot.
There’s a new gold rush in the Rockies — the Kroenke family chases championship jewels.
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3. Murray, Porter officially surpassed the bet
This is not only a win for the Nuggets but also for Murray and Porter, who have faced potentially devastating injuries that have robbed each of their seasons. Murray’s knee injury and multiple back surgeries for Porter are now old news, but winning the championship makes those defeats seem secondary now.
“Michael is only going to get better,” Malone said. “I think it is important for people to understand that Michael is a young player. He missed his rookie season. He played nine games last year.”
Porter struggled with his 3-pointer throughout the series but in Game 5 contributed in other ways – rebound, short jump, defense. And Murray had moments in this series where he was the best player on the ring.
“Every diver really wants to be on this stage, playing in the game and being in the moment,” Murray said. “But that’s all, I can’t go from rehab, I have to take the stairs, not just a month or two. I still have different times where I’m hesitant, but I’ve gotten so much better at it and just left that behind, not just me, but Mike as well. A lot of different things go through my head. Lots of tears. Lots of blood, sweat and tears, and real stuff.”
The work they put in during rehabilitation, and the patience not only of them but also of their team and therapists, paid off. If anything, the Nuggets might be wondering what if – assuming those players didn’t suffer those injuries? Do the Nuggets have at least one more championship at the moment – considering Jokic won the MVP in two years when Porter and/or Murray weren’t competing?
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4. The housekeeper runs out of time
Let’s pause praising the Nuggets and say hello to Jimmy Butler. He’s currently 0-2 on trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the Heat, but that doesn’t fully describe the journey. Butler played spectacularly in 2020 before and against the Lakers. And while he struggled at various points in this series — no more than the first three quarters of Game 5 — Butler finished the game on Monday, and that’s all you can. request.
Especially with a player who is not at 100% fitness. Butler hurt his ankle and knee in the Finals; nothing serious, but still enough to rob him of the best.
“My ankle is fine,” he said. We just didn’t win. There’s no reason. They beat us. That is all what I have.”
Anyway, he nearly saved the Heat in the fourth round. He started with a pair of 3-pointers, then sank three free throws after being fouled. Miami comes to Butler again in a moment of truth; he veered off the lane, got stuck, then was forced to overtake a post that was blocked at the last minute. Another 3-point effort by Butler with 16 seconds left was missed and it was a finish.
When asked what stood out on Monday, Butler said: “That I turned the ball upside down. That is what stands out.”
But he added that the work is not over yet.
“I had some great teammates come and play with me and give us a chance to win the championship, which I still believe, with everything in me, that we will do here with as a team, as an organization.”
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5. Malone wants an encore
The champagne was still not sprayed as Malone looked ahead. During the trophy ceremony, the coach said: “We want more.”
And he’s not talking about applause.
Then he said, “We talk about evolution in this game. “You go from an unknown to an upstart. You go from an upstart to a winner. From a winner to a competitor. And from a contender to a champion. The last step after a champion is to become a dynasty.”
Malone constantly challenges his players to reach their peak and seems to believe that the Nuggets are nowhere near their peak. This is nothing new for championship coaches – remember Pat Riley’s assurance of a repeat champion during the 1987 Lakers parade?
Sure, Nuggets are built to last. For how long, no one knows. But Jokic, Murray, Gordon and Porter are all under 30. That means something. And perhaps the Nuggets had suffered a serious injury, although back injuries, as was the case with Porter, are always difficult to treat.
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This is for sure: There is a slow change of guard in the West. The Warriors are aging and in need of adjustment. Same for the Lakers with 39-year-old LeBron James. New blood in the West flows through Sacramento, Memphis, and Denver. And the Nuggets are in the best form of the three teams.
There’s still a lot to be determined this summer through drafts, free agency, and deals. But to have a dynasty, you must first win a dynasty. Nuggets did just that.
Jokic has something to say about that.
“I don’t think about next year. I will ask the coach to give me a few more weeks off so I can be ready for the season.”
“It was supposed to be a joke, and you didn’t laugh. Well done, guys.”