“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

– H.P. Lovecraft

When I was a little boy, there was a monster in my closet. I never saw him, but I knew he was there, which somehow made it worse. I had a horrible time getting to sleep, as I knew that the moment that I did, he’d come out and get me. While I wasn’t at all sure what he looked like, though I suspected it was a lot like Sesame Street’s Herry Monster, who seemed to frequent the worst of dreams…

All these years later, I still have scary (and hairy) monsters, just different monsters hiding in different closets. The unknown aspect of those fears is always the key to what gets the hair on the back of my neck standing up. If everything is possible, then the most horrible thing you cannot even possibly imagine is possibly possible. Possibly.

Fear of the unknown (and poorly constructed sentences) is not only one of the classic fears, but one that some psychologists say sit at the root of most all other fears. Talented storytellers use this to great effect, whether Edgar Allen Poe or Alfred Hitchcock or H.P. Lovecraft or Steven Spielberg. The scariest thing is the thing we’ve never known or seen. Our imaginations are typically far more powerful than whatever reality might actually bring.

Which is not to say reality can’t be pretty damned scary. Just ask Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, one of six Nuggets players to play in their first NBA playoff game on April 13th. Murray had a nightmare evening, possibly almost as bad as his imagination could have possibly concocted. Six of the nine guys who hit the floor that night had no context to fall back on, and it showed. The team came out of the gates wound pretty tightly, and often pressed so hard they made mistakes. Nothing outside the norm when those first-time unknown joys, fears, and adrenaline are coursing through your veins. The tough night was written all over Murray’s face and voice after the game.

But even after a heartbreaking loss, followed by some pretty uneven play over the next two games, the young Nuggets kept discovering ways to not only overcome their fears, but the team on the other end of the floor, eventually putting together one of their more complete wins of the season in a Game 5 pasting of the San Antonio Spurs. Murray was one of the key components of the Nuggets decisive win, and it was a very different guy talking to the combined media as Denver took a 3-2 series lead.

Murray was a great candidate to emerge stronger from his Game 1 struggles and unknowns, as he’s a mentally tough guy who has practiced habits to overcome these sorts of tough outcomes from a very young age. Though his playoff arc is one of the more compelling stories of the matchup thus far, each of his first-time compatriots have crafted some pretty impressive narratives themselves.

Nuggets MVP Nikola Jokic launched his playoff experience with a triple double in that narrow loss, and is nearly averaging a triple double for the series. He’s shown on a national stage that he’s every bit the superstar that Nuggets Nation has been raving about the last few years, as Denver’s most consistent source of good outcomes throughout these playoffs.

Most-tenured Nugget Gary Harris has been key to Denver’s series turnaround, possibly the strongest two-way player on the floor. The swagger he’s played with over 165 minutes on the floor has permeated the squad, and it’s apparent he’s feeling back to himself for the first time in months.

Backup point guard Monte Morris had a bit of a nightmare start of his own these playoffs, with two points and a -11 +/- hanging on his first game. Morris has cleared double-digits in every game since, with 23 assists and four turnovers showing how his amazingly consistent and valuable skillset translates just as well to playoff pressures.

Wonder wing Malik Beasley has been one of the Nuggets most-consistent players, averaging 11.2 points a game on 49% shooting from the floor and an absurd 58% average from beyond the arc.

Defensive stalwart Torrey Craig was a massive difference maker when called upon as a starter for Game 4, going 5-for-7 on threes in his best game of the series. Craig has consistently been shutting down important aspects of the Spurs offense, taking on whatever assignment Coach Michael Malone has passed down.

For each of those six, the unknown is now known. Whatever monsters lurked in that collective closet headed into Game 1 seem to be vanquished, as each of the young stars has found a way to overcome and conquer those fears, handily and admirably. Whether the Nuggets season ends two losses from now, 13 wins from now, or anywhere in between, they have proven to themselves and observers that they belong in the playoff conversation over the long term, and will continue to make their unknown selves better known. The rest of the league should be afraid.

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