triskaidekaphobia noun (tri-skī-de-kə-ˈfō-bē-ə):
extreme superstition regarding the number thirteen.
To the surprise of many, the fear or superstition of the number 13 is an exceptionally real thing, especially in the United States (and many other countries that “begat” from Puritan origins). A quick googling will show you the primary threads, finding those “13” associations with Judas, Loki, and a host of others who found themselves attached to the number through mythology and lore. Funny enough, you just have to travel across a pond or border in many cases to find folks who will readily disagree. In countries such as Egypt, Italy, India, Japan, and others, 13 is actually considered a very fortuitous/auspicious omen. From a distance, the bottom line seems to be that the number simply takes on the power you imbue it with.
When the Denver Nuggets stepped onto the floor seeking their 13th playoff win of the season in Thursday night’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, it certainly wasn’t the number itself that was haunting them. That 13th win looked for a few early moments as if it might be elusive, nevertheless. After a week and a half’s rest – and plenty of time to consider the gravity of their first Championship round – the team came out of the gates a little tight, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Jr., and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all saw pretty sweet looks draw iron, while Nikola Jokic simply kept distributing. Defnse was keeping things close, but you could see the team was a little wound up.
Enter Aaron Gordon.
The Nuggets usual fourth or fifth offensive option decided to leverage the incredible size advantage he was getting on every switch that came his way, and bullied his way to 12 of his eventual 16 points in that first quarter, most of them against against the Lilliputians who Miami kept rotating in front of him. AG’s aggressiveness fed the rest of the team, who seemed to relax with every shot he got to drop. By the end of the quarter, Denver would be rolling, and up by nine.
Denver’s offense roared to life from the end of the first quarter through the end of the third, presenting difficulties the Heat simply seemed to have no answers for. Nearly every major advantage falls in the Nuggets favor. Their length, strength, shooting skills, cohesiveness, and switchability are aspects that don’t just bode well for Game 1, but for the series as a whole. While it is still exceptionally possible for Denver to find ways to struggle in this series, its heady stuff to see that nearly all of the advantages are so firmly in their favor.
That means that whatever temporary triskaidekaphobic trepidation these Nuggets had about this 13th win was exactly that. Temporary. Crossing over any threshold for the first time can be a little unnerving, and this trip to the Finals is one of the few tests this team hasn’t already passed in its past.
This game, like everything after it, is a new frontier for these Denver Nuggets, and by game’s end it was exceedingly clear that they simply had to prove to themselves (and all of the rest of us) that they belong, even on this big bright stage. That in this moment, they actually look to own that stage, and the curtains they keep dropping on every opponent they cross. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
13 is done and done, Nuggets Nation. Not so scary, huh? These Denver Nuggets can win, even in the Championship round. They have proven it to themselves, and not much can really stop them now. Here’s to going and getting 14. And 15. And if my pedometer can take the pacing around my living room (nearly 10k steps in Game 1)… here’s to eventually going and getting that sweet sweet 16.
We belong here. No more numbers to fear. What a lucky 13.