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This is what we wanted

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There are no silver linings in the NBA playoffs, but the Denver Nuggets are finally making memories again

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

There is too much to process. Our reflections on what just happened will likely come in waves. But for now, in the immediate aftermath of an instant classic, we remember the myriad of pivotal moments that swung this game in the wrong direction.

What is fresh on our minds are the leads the Denver Nuggets held, and then lost in the longest NBA Playoff game since 1953. What is fresh are the missed opportunities, the heartbreaking bounces, and that fatal missed free throw attempt. We remember the quale-the raw disappointment that washed over us as yet another marquee win eluded this organization.

We will look back on this game for years to come. Depending on how this series unfolds, we will reflect through a particular lens, but we will comb through every detail—many of which are destined to slip through our fingers as the bigger picture takes hold. There’s too much to take with us from this game. But regardless of what details stick, we will remember what we saw in Portland on Friday night for a long time.

If we are lucky, we will remember it forever.

It’s hard to imagine how the Nuggets can bounce back and steal a game on the road following that loss. A 7-foot tall, 250 lb. franchise center, much maligned for his conditioning, logged 64:58 minutes on the court. He was magnificent for nearly every second but faltered in the most crucial moment. A fading light in the Nuggets locker room rediscovered his spark after his coach showed faith, but came up just short of victory over the team that renounced theirs. A 22-year-old budding star came within inches of his first taste of glory, only to see it roll off his fingertips.

The Nuggets don’t have time to reflect on what is likely the most memorable game that any of them have played. The Nuggets will take that same court again on Sunday afternoon as their postseason gauntlet continues, and they must turn the page on a story that will we will tell for years to come.

Far too often these stories have ended in disappointment for the Denver Nuggets and their fans. They have never won an NBA championship. They have never appeared in the NBA Finals. Every chapter in this team’s history, even the ones we cherish the most, ultimately ends in defeat. Game 3 is no different.

The result of this game was carved in stone. The Trail Blazers were the only winners in a game that deserved no loser, and nothing that follows now can change that. But Denver’s not done. This series is not over, and their story is not complete. What happened last night was just the beginning for one of the youngest teams to ever play this deep into a season.

What happened last night is what we’ve spent the last decade waiting for.

Only eight teams remain in the world’s most competitive basketball tournament. Last night, with players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Donovan Mitchell already in their offseason, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the Denver Nuggets took center stage. We all envisioned these Nuggets playing on such a stage one day. Finally, this team is where they belong.

The value that this series provides the basketball universe materializes when juxtaposed with the other matchup in the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors vs. the Houston Rockets, the matchup we have anticipated for over a year now, has been reduced to fodder for the cheapest and emptiest of takes. Landing space has been the series MVP. Trevor Ariza was trending on Twitter after game 2. Those might be the best teams this league has to offer, but we’ve only been provided the worst of our favorite game.

Neither Portland nor Denver will win the NBA title this year. Such categorical statements are ill-advised, but the inevitable awaits either team. Golden State is rolling. The defending champions are ascending to their rightful place atop the basketball universe. Their series with Houston is not over, but the Western conference belongs to them. And yet we all watched Game 3. We watched it in its entirety, and we loved virtually every second of it. Title or bust is a dying narrative, and these two teams are driving the final nail into its coffin.

There might be changes in the margins, but Denver will run this thing back regardless of the outcome. They’ve won 54 games. They’ve advanced to the second round for the first time in a decade. They’ve expanded their cultural footprint in a city that is reluctant to embrace them.

Portland won’t trade this year in. Even if this season ends in defeat, they’ll remember what Damian Lillard did to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’ll remember the way Enes Kanter stepped up in Jusuf Nurkic’s absence. They will remember, of all people, Rodney Hood sending us home after nearly four hours of basketball. They’ll be glad it happened.

Following one of the most memorable games ever played, writers from both markets have selected substantial storylines from a smorgasbord of enticing options. There is so much to seek our teeth into. There is so much to appreciate. That was the best that this sport has to offer.

Any Nuggets fan is entitled to lament on this day. Every Nuggets fan desired a different result last night. But the elusive perspective, the truth buried in all that disappointment, is that results notwithstanding, this is precisely what we’ve been waiting for.

One of the greatest games ever played took place last night. The Nuggets were on the wrong end of the result, but they were there. They deserved to be there.

What we taste now is bitter. What we feel now is frustration. But this is it. Game 3 was what we asked for. These emotions are what’s at stake at the highest level.

The Denver Nuggets are finally making memories again. Last night was just the first of many more to come.