DENVER – Pure joy and satisfaction for the Denver Nuggets one win away.
Beating Phoenix and advancing to the Western Conference Finals and beating the Los Angeles Lakers and reaching the NBA Finals were just part of a larger quest to win an NBA Championship.
“I speak to the 17 players in that locker room and to the entire organization, we’re not satisfied,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after sweeping the Denver Lakers three weeks ago.
The only thing that will make this season redeemable and successful is beating the Miami Heat one more time. After Friday’s 108-95 victory, the Nuggets are 3-1 in the playoffs and can clinch the franchise’s first NBA championship in Game 5 on Monday.
There are no NBA Championship lineup plans yet.
Malone made a familiar refusal.
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Before Malone went back to Denver, I told our guys what I said the first time, “You know we didn’t do anything: ‘We don’t celebrate. It is a good victory, we have finished our work. But we’re not celebrating that we’ve done anything yet.’
“We know we’ve got to go home and turn off the TV, the radio, don’t read the papers, don’t listen to everyone telling you how great you are because we haven’t done anything bad yet. We’ve got to win another game to become a world champion, and that’s easily by taking one quarter.”
Malone’s cliche but important approach is part of what has allowed the Nuggets to get this far. And he’s right, the team shouldn’t be paying attention to the media because the Nuggets recently won a series.
The Nuggets were the best team in the playoffs after two rounds, after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference, and there was no doubt who was the best team in the NBA Finals in four games.
In Nikola Jokic, the best player left in the playoffs and the best 1-2 combo in Jokic and Jamal Murray, they have the best starting five and the best rotation. They are getting important contributions from a strong eight-man rotation.
The Denver Nuggets have the ‘tools’ to claim the franchise’s first title.
“We’re ready to win a championship,” Murray said. “We have tools to work with. It’s been on our minds for a while. We’re just locked in. I don’t think you should think about it. We’re ready to lose.”
Murray had 15 points, 12 assists and zero turnovers in Game 4, becoming the first player to have at least 10 assists in the first four Finals games and joining Magic Johnson as the only two players to have at least 10 assists in four consecutive Finals games. .
Jokic’s 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists Friday made him the first player to reach at least 500 points, 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a season.
The contributions come from everywhere. Aaron Gordon had a playoff-high 27 points, Bruce Brown scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, Michael Porter Jr. reached double figures in points after struggling to score in Games 2 and 3 and Jeff Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He made important 3-pointers in Game 4. That followed Christian Brown’s 15 points off the bench in Game 3, a game in which Murray and Jokic each had triple-doubles, the first 30-point, 20-rebound triple-double in a playoff game from Jokic.
Three of Denver’s wins have come by at least 10 points. The Nuggets scored 119.3 points per 100 possessions and had the best defense in the second round, scoring 111.1 points per 100 possessions. After the first three rounds, they limited Miami to a league-best 39% from 3-point shooting and 43.4% in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston.
The Heat dropped to 36.6% against Denver, including 32.3% in their three losses.
The nugget is ‘locked’ on defense.
“It’s two games in a row, and even the first game we won, our defense is playing at a high level,” Malone said. “I have to give our guys a lot of credit for being locked in and being disciplined. That’s three wins now that our defense has held them under 100 and the three-point line was a big part of that. They made eight threes tonight, and our guys are locked in, we’re focused.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra showed confidence in Boston heading into Game 7 when a 3-0 Heat lead turned into a 3-3 series.
“All we’re focused on is getting this thing back to 305,” Spoelstra said.
Miami’s competitiveness deserves admiration. But this is different.
The Power met the better team at the wrong time.
“We were still desperate,” Jokic said. “We still wanted it.”
Everything the Nuggets are building to is there because they know what they had in Jokic and Murray five seasons ago.