The Denver Nuggets may not have finished the season the way they expected, but it will be a season that many Nuggets fans won’t forget. In the absence of their second and third leading scorers, Nikola Jokic led this team to a 48-win season and the 6th seed in the Western Conference. Although the Warriors beat them 4-1 in the first round, it was much more competitive than the result would indicate.
After two resounding losses at Golden State, many fans were ready to accept the idea of Denver’s second straight playoff sweep, but the Nuggets once again showed their resilience. Yes, it was only one victory, but often the process is more important than the result.
Many outsiders have viewed the Nuggets as a soft team over the years and downplayed their success in 2020 because it was in the bubble. Although they couldn’t create the same success they had that year, they displayed the same determination. Many teams turn around and start planning their trips to Cancun when they lost 3-0, but the Nuggets stayed the course and left everything they had on the floor.
Their last two losses have come within a five-point margin and the competitiveness they have shown has earned the respect of the opponent. Led by their superstar Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets forged their identity through adversity. It is not yet a championship identity, but rather an identity of courage.
Did you enjoy this season? I certainly did. The incredible moments from game-winner Monte Morris at Golden State to the critical showdown in Philadelphia where the Nuggets won the MVP battle. The playoff loss was a disappointment but we learned that Nikola Jokic is not just great but legendary.
He averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.6 steals on 57.5 percent shooting from the field. During that span, he ranked second in playoff points and had the highest field goal percentage of any top-25 points per game. Additionally, in Game 5, he also became the first Nuggets player in the past 25 years to grab 10 rebounds in a single quarter of a playoff game. The accolades keep piling up for Nikola, as does the respect of his peers.
Draymond Green on Nikola Jokic: “Usually when guys are this talented and competent, they are sweet. He is far, far from sweet. pic.twitter.com/39LSduOGaP
—Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 28, 2022
The MVP has yet to be officially decided but many expect Jokic to win his second straight MVP award. This, added to his consistent success, will establish him as a legend in basketball. Professional basketball has been around for over 100 years and there are very few “legends” the game has produced. He’s a real unicorn and he’ll eventually change the way the game plays in the middle position. Generations of players will imitate his game with confidence and won’t be deterred by the fact that they don’t share the athleticism many thought was necessary to succeed in the NBA.
So thank you, Nikola Jokic. Not just for what you’ve done for this game, but for this town. Denver is not, and far from, the most respected basketball city in the league, but now we can’t be ignored. There are certainly more steps to take to earn full respect, but the memories Jokic has left for this city are immeasurable. They will be passed down from generation to generation, and I’m sure my family will never forget what Jokic brought to this city and this season in particular.
On a less serious note, we also learned that the Nuggets continue to be cursed. In 2013, the Nuggets had their best record since entering the NBA, but Gallinari got injured and they lost to the Warriors in the playoffs. Fast forward to 2021, the Western Conference field was finally wide open, and the Nuggets had a shot at making the Finals, and then Murray ripped his ACL. The following year, hope was still there as it was believed that Murray would return near the end of the season, and MPJ was set to make an All-Star type jump. Instead, MPJ suffered a season-ending injury and Murray was unable to return.
As Nuggets fans, what have we learned? Well, the road through the West will always be tough, and even if it weren’t, there will be significant adversity for the Nuggets to overcome. The odds will apparently always be against the Nuggets, but you know what? I like it. I like to be the underdog. I love the character that is shaped through the process, and one day, if and when that championship comes around, it’s going to be a feeling that many won’t be able to share.
Colorado has never identified itself as a basketball state. The Broncos have won several championships, as have the Avalanche. Once upon a time, the Rockies made it to a World Series, and while they continue to disappoint, their fan presence is miraculous. The greatness of Nikola Jokic and the courage shown by this Nuggets team every year does not go unnoticed by fans. You now see many Nugget jerseys in away arenas, and Nugget fans will spare no expense in defending their team and their superstar Nikola Jokic.
Similar to when Dirk brought the Mavericks their first championship. Years of difficult, unlucky and exhausting seasons are worth it. So was this season a mess? Absolutely not. We’ve learned that the Nuggets perform better than most in adversity. We learned that Nikola Jokic is not just an MVP but a legend, but what we learned the most is that the end goal for Denver will never be easy. This championship is more elusive than ever, but the struggles that surface create a sense of community. There is immense pride in this team, and that hasn’t always been the case. So thank you, 2021-2022 Denver Nuggets. You have taught us lessons that we can transfer into our own lives and manifested the identity that this state is true. Moxie.