The Denver Nuggets might not have ended the season as they envisioned, but it will be a season many Nuggets fans will not forget. In the absence of their second and third best scorers, Nikola Jokic led this team to a 48-win season and the 6th seed in the Western Conference. Although the Warriors defeated them 4-1 in the first round, it was a lot more competitive than the result indicates.
After two blowout losses in Golden State, many fans were ready to accept the idea of Denver’s second straight playoff sweep, but the Nuggets displayed their resilience once again. Yes, it was only one win, but often the process is more important than the result.
Many outsiders viewed the Nuggets as a soft team over the years and discounted their success in 2020 because it was in the bubble. Although they could not create the same success they had in that year, they displayed the same resolve. Many teams roll over and start planning their trips to Cancun when down 3-0, but the Nuggets stayed the course and left everything they had on the floor.
Their final two losses did not exceed a five-point margin, and the competitiveness they showed garnered respect from the opponent. Led by their superstar Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets forged their identity through adversity. It is not a championship identity just yet, but instead an identity of fortitude.
Did you enjoy this season? I certainly did. The incredible moments from the Monte Morris game-winner in Golden State to the critical showdown in Philadelphia where the Nuggets won the battle of the MVPs. The playoff defeat was a bummer, but we learned 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% shooting from the field. During that span, he ranked second in playoff points and had the highest field goal percentage of anyone in the top 25 of points per game. Furthermore, in Game 5, he also became the first Nuggets player in the last 25 years to grab 10 rebounds in a single quarter of a playoff game. The accolades continue to stack for Nikola, and so does the respect from his peers.
Draymond Green on Nikola Jokic: “Usually when guys are that talented and skilled, they’re soft. He’s far, far from soft.” pic.twitter.com/39LSduOGaP— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 28, 2022
The MVP has not been officially decided yet, but many expect Jokic to capture his second consecutive MVP award. That, along with his constant success, will place him as a legend in the game of basketball. Professional basketball has been around for over 100 years, and there are very few “legends” the game has produced. He is a true unicorn and will eventually change how the game is played at the center position. Generations of players will emulate his game with confidence and not be deterred by the fact they don't share the athleticism many thought was needed to be successful in the NBA.
So thank you, Nikola Jokic. Not only for what you have done for this game, but for this city. Denver is not, and far from, the most respected basketball town in the league, but now we cannot be ignored. There are certainly more steps to take to in order to gain full respect, but the memories Jokic has given to this town are immeasurable. They will be passed down from generation to generation, and I know for damn 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 the Nuggets continue to be cursed. In 2013, the Nuggets had their best record since entering the NBA, yet Gallinari got hurt, 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 chance to make it to the Finals, and then Murray tore his ACL. The next year, hope was still present because there was faith Murray would return towards the end of the season, and MPJ was expected to make an All-Star type of leap. Instead, MPJ suffered a season-ending injury, and Murray was unable to return.
As Nuggets fans, what have we learned? Well, the path through the West will always be an arduous one, and even if it wasn’t, there will be significant adversity the Nuggets must overcome. The odds will seemingly always be stacked against the Nuggets, but you know what? I kind of like it. I like being the underdog. I like the character that is molded through the process, and one day, if and when that championship arrives, it will be a feeling many cannot share.
Colorado has never identified itself as a basketball state. The Broncos have won multiple championships and so have the Avalanche. The Rockies made it to a World Series once upon a time, and even though they continue to disappoint, their fan attendance is miraculous. The greatness of Nikola Jokic and the fortitude this Nuggets team shows every year does not go unnoticed by the fans. You now see numerous Nugget jerseys in away arenas, and Nugget fans will spare no expense to defend their team and their superstar Nikola Jokic.
Similar to when Dirk brought the Mavericks their first championship. Years of difficult, unlucky, and strenuous seasons will all be worth it. So was this season a waste? Absolutely not. We learned the Nuggets operate better than most under adversity. We learned Nikola Jokic is not only an MVP but a legend, but what we learned the most is that the end goal for Denver will never be simple. That championship is as elusive as ever, but the struggles that surface create a sense of community. There is immense pride in this team, and that has not always been the case. So thank you, 2021-2022 Denver Nuggets. You taught us lessons we can transfer to our own lives and manifested the identity this state holds true. Moxie.