The Bubble Nuggets

Part One: The Nuggets Return

On July 22nd It was a joyous day for many Nuggets fans as the Nuggets prepared for an absolutely meaningless game against the Washington Wizards. It had been four months since the last time Denver had played their last game against the Dallas Mavericks; a 16 point loss to Dallas on the night the NBA season was suddenly halted due to the Covid-19. The game may have been without stakes, but for Nuggets fans across the globe it was one to remember due to Nuggets 7’2” center Bol Bol making his NBA debut. The Nuggets started a big man lineup that involved Bol, center Nikola Jokic, and another center named Mason Plumlee. Bol ended up going off for 16 points with 10 impressive boards in a seven point win. Bol performances caught the eye of not just Nuggets fans but also the national media with NBA Yahoo reporter Keith Smith even tweeting “I'm all in on Bol Bol after about 8 minutes of this scrimmage. All-NBA? MVP? I'm in for every bit of it.” Smith, of course, may have been joking but Bol had made a case that he may be a huge part of Denver's future.

Part Two: Some Injury Shaken Seeding Games

August 1st, the Nuggets began the first of their eight seeding against the Miami Heat. However they were the furthest thing from healthy missing key players Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Will Barton. The seeding games were a struggle for the Nuggets, winning only three of their eight games. However there were some bright spots in Micheal Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic. In a OT win against the Thunder Porter dropped 37 points, the first of back to back 3o0plus point games in two winning efforts. Jokic, as always dazzled averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 boards, and 6.8 assists starting the seeding games without his running mate Jamal Murray. Jamal Murray finally returned in the fifth game leading a remarkable two overtime comeback win against the Jazz. Leading us to a much anticipated rematch in the playoffs.

Part Three: What a Comeback!!!

The Nuggets entered the first round preparing for what would be an absolute battle. Game one was an absolute fight with Donvanan Mitchell dropping an unbelievable 57 points. However Jokic and Murray were too much and silenced the Jazz in a ten point overtime win. However after the game the Jazz knew they had what it took to beat the Nuggets, “At the end of the day, we're not overreacting. It's one game”` said jazz superstar Donvan Mitchel. The Jazz proved it in game two crushing the Nuggets by 19 points. Series tied one to one. Game three was a disaster for the Nuggets, with the Nugs losing by 27 points. The Nuggets now trailed the series 2-1, losing game four would most likely back the Nuggets into a wall. Game four went back and forth with Nuggets falling behind in the third, they scratched and they crawled back into the game led by Jamal Murray. But, Donvan Mitchell took over dropping 51 points, literally one upping Murray who dropped 50. The season looked over, but after the game Murray said one thing "One game at a time." Game five looked over once the Jazz lead reached 15 in the third quarter. The Nuggets needed nothing short of a miracle. Enter Jamal Murray who scored 33 in the second half refusing to let his team lose. He gave it his all and the Nuggets came back outsourcing the Jazz by 25 points after they had trailed by 15 in order to win by 10 points. In game six, the Jazz went up ten early then fell flat on offense while the Nuggets elevated to a level higher than they had been at any time in the bubble. There would be a game seven as Denver won by 12. Game seven, Nuggets in the iconic rainbow city editions facing the Jazz, did Mitchell and co. have a knockout punch waiting or were the Nuggets prepared to complete one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history. The Nuggets flew way ahead early, the Jazz looked as tired as someone checking into the Hilton Salt Lake City at one in the morning. But then the Nuggets offense who had pushed them up to a 19 point lead slowed down and the Jazz started limping their way back in. The comeback was impressive and at the end after even a brief lead the Jazz only trailed by two after a clutch Jokic shot with 27 second left. Then Mitchell drove inside to tie the game and Gary Harris got a clutch steal with 8 seconds to go, just hold the ball right Nuggets. NO! Instead Tory Craig threw up a layup to put it away and the ball found its way into Mike Conley's hand and the ball went in…. and then out! Nuggets win and advance.

Part Four: Another Comeback!

Then came the second round. The Nugs got run off the floor in game one by the heavily favored Clippers. Led by an incredible 44 point first quarter, the Nuggets pulled off an impressive 110-101 to tie the series at one game each. They then lost games three and four putting them down three games to one. They would need to do the same thing that they did with the Jazz. Game five looked like the Nuggets final game in the bubble as they trail by 16 early. Then led by the intensity of Paul Millsap who stood up to the Clippers Marcus Morris after a hard foul, the Nuggets flew back into the game. As a result they would win game five. Game six was again another comeback win led by Nikola Jokic who’s 34 point lead led the Nuggets back from a 19 point deficit. So it would come down to a game seven. Jamal Murray dropped 40 points and led the Nuggets to a rather easy victory down the stretch. A fantastic win to push the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 2009.

Part Five: A Date with the Lakers

The Nuggets opponents would be the LA Lakers piloted by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Game one was a solid start to finish win for the Lakers. The Nuggets looked outmatched and game two would be a huge game. Game two was close start to finish with Denver holding a lead with a couple seconds left until Anthony Davis hit a buzzer beater three to end the game. Once again in game three Denver was able to find a way to win with their backs to the wall in a solid 114-106 win. However the Nuggets could revive that magic in game four and five and lost to the eventual champion Lakers.

The NBA bubble may have not ended with the Nuggets holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy, but it did provide optimism for a fanbase in need of some hope. With the return Will Barton and hopefully some new additions, The Nuggets should be right back in the playoffs next year. The only question is who is that last piece to push them into their first ever NBA Finals. Perhaps they look to make big trade like the 2018-19 Raptors or 2019-20 Lakers or maybe they decide to build up their young core into a Western Conference power for years to come. Denver may have been knocked out this year, but they could be ascending toward height never before seen in Nuggets history.

Story By: Dominic Fratino '21