A Nugget of History

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, right, celebrate their win over the Los Angeles Clippers in an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Denver Nuggets cemented their place in history last night, becoming the first team ever to come back from not one, but two 3-1 deficits. While a few NBA nerds like myself have been raving about the Nuggets resurgence as a young team, Vegas betting odds did not believe in them from a sheer numbers perspective. Denver won the series as +610 underdogs, which was the biggest upset since the 2012 Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Chicago Bulls when Derrick Rose suffered the first of his gruesome injuries. Gamblers betting on the Nuggets to win Game 7 secured net margins of 70% to 80% which is surreal.  

There have been 133 Game 7s in the history of the NBA, of which a team won after being down 3-1 only 11 times. For those of you who dislike math, that is a win percentage of 8.27%. For an NBA team to win two back-to-back series in such fashion, the odds are a staggering 0.68%. Statistically, according to Business Insider, you have a better chance of becoming a millionaire before turning 40 (the likelihood being 1.8%) than witnessing such an event in the NBA.  

This Denver Nuggets team is humble and plays cohesively. This team sees that a championship is within reach, and now it has the confidence to battle blow for blow with the class of the West. While the team still won’t be favored in the next round against the undisputed king of the league – LeBron James and his Lakers – I want to highlight what exactly is so special about this Nuggets team.  

They exemplify how much team basketball and chemistry matters. Taking nothing away from Jamal Murray’s superhuman 40-point effort and Nikola Jokic’s triple-double, this team from top to bottom came into this series with the mentality that they deserve the spotlight just as much as any of the more media-favored contenders. The Nuggets have athletic wings and guards with three-point capability that force a lot of defensive rotations. They can essentially swing the ball, set screens and cut around the court endlessly until they get an open shot. Moreover, with shot creators like Murray, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., veteran Paul Millsap and others, they are an absolute nightmare to guard.  

Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) is pressured by Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) as he drives with the ball during the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Furthermore, their team youth comes into play late in games, as their key offensive contributors typically have the legs to ramp up their energy in high leverage moments. How can you double team a team who will always find the open man through the best passing big man in the league? The Nuggets are unpredictable and this chemistry, combined with their constantly improving young talent, is their biggest strength. 

The interesting aspect of this Western Conference matchup is that the strengths of each team play into the weakness of the other. The Nuggets are going to torch the Lakers on the perimeter, but can they body up against the three seven-footers on the Lakers’ roster, plus LeBron? If the Nuggets can take care of the basketball, limit the Lakers’ fastbreak opportunities and limit LeBron just enough, we might all be in for a surprise.  

The series kicks off Friday at 9 p.m. and is must-watch TV, as the Nuggets have made it clear that anything can happen in the 2020 NBA bubble. 

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