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Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets are doing it their way

Harrison Wind Avatar
May 21, 2023

LOS ANGELES — To beat the Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals and to come within one win of their first-ever NBA Finals, the Nuggets could only do it one way: Their way.

Jamal Murray’s 30 first-half points set Denver up, but the Nuggets were never going to finish the job like that. Because at their core, that’s not who these Denver Nuggets are. They’re at their best when they’re operating as one. They’re a team in every sense of the word. And that’s why the Nuggets captured their biggest win in franchise history Saturday night.

This was the most pivotal sequence of Game 3, to me at least. With the Nuggets barely holding onto a two-point lead and seven minutes remaining in regulation, Denver’s selfless, team basketball was put on display.

Michael Porter Jr. passed up a long two-point jumpshot that he drains in his sleep and made an extra pass to Bruce Brown in the corner. Brown promptly drained the 3, silencing the Lakers’ crowd (again). It was an early dagger. The Nuggets never looked back. Michael Malone called it one of his “favorite” plays of the night. It was the ultimate look that went from good to great with an extra pass.

In total, the Nuggets tallied 30 assists in Game 3, their third-most of the playoffs. None might have been more important than that one.

“I love it, just because you can see everybody’s moving,” Nikola Jokic said of Denver’s passing. “I think that’s hard to guard.”

“It’s so, how do you say it, when you, like poison?” continued Jokic looking for just the right word. “It’s contagious. Yeah, and I love it. I think that’s the best brand of basketball. At least everybody enjoying.”

If the Nuggets were going to pull off the improbable feat of winning an NBA championship, they were always going to do it this way. With everyone pulling in one direction. With chemistry, culture, and a team-first mindset. They were never going to be the 2013 Miami Heat with LeBron James. They were always going to be the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, the team that ended the Heat’s reign in five games in the Finals that year.

Murray carried Denver in the first half, then the Nuggets took over. Jokic scored 19 points in the second half and 15 in the fourth quarter. Brown had 15. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put in 17. Jeff Green tallied 5 points, 4 rebounds, closed the fourth quarter over Aaron Gordon, and converted a massive 3-pointer in the fourth right before Brown’s game-turning shot.

“We’re just a very unselfish team,” Murray said. “It may not be your night, it may not be your quarter.”

Game 3 was a Nuggets win for the ages. It felt like everything was against them. The narrative, the officiating, and Denver even survived a subpar Jokic first half. But the Nuggets found a way. That’s what this team does.

“I learn a lot about this team every time we play,” Caldwell-Pope said.

They never got rattled and they never lost faith. Denver was as resilient as ever.

“I never doubt my team,” said Jokic.

The Nuggets have the look of a team of destiny. It feels like nothing can stop them, and they know it too. They sense it. They believe. All playoffs, the Nuggets have exuded an incredible amount of confidence. They know what they have, and now the rest of the country does too.

“It takes 16 wins to win a championship,” Murray said. “We’ve got five more to go, and the Lakers are in our way. And they’re going to do everything in their power to come back and fight.”

“We’ve got 5 more to go.”


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