It took nearly three-quarters of a century, but at long last an NBA champion resides in the Mountain time zone.
In what was proven to be inevitable after their conquering of Heat Culture in South Florida last week, the Denver Nuggets finished off Miami last night in the rarified Mile High air of Ball Arena, winning a hard-fought 94-89 game that UPI’s Alex Butler enthusiastically reported on:
Nikola Jokic totaled a game-high 28 points and dominated on the glass, leading the Denver Nuggets to a chaotic Game 5 win over the Miami Heat and clinching the franchise’s first title in 47 years Monday in Denver.
“We were not winning for ourselves,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said on the ABC broadcast after the 94-89 victory. “We were winning for the guys next to us. This is a great group of people and a great group of teammates.
“We believed in each other and the relationships we have.”
The Heat overachieved with team effort, to be sure, but in the end it was no match for the sheer volume of talent and teamwork Denver displayed, as Butler continued:
Forward Bruce Brown jumped between defenders for a put-back layup to give the Nuggets their final advantage with 91 seconds remaining in the game. The basket halted a fierce rally that saw Jimmy Butler scoring the Heat’s final 13 points.
Jokic totaled 16 rebounds and four assists, in addition to his point total, en route to NBA Finals MVP honors. Forward Michael Porter Jr. and guard Jamal Murray chipped in 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The Nuggets outshot the Heat 45.2% to 34.4%. The teams combined to make just 14 of 63 3-point attempts. The game featured nine lead changes and was tied six times. The Heat led by as many as 10 points in the loss.
“Those last three or four minutes felt like a scene out of a movie,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “Two teams in the center of the ring, throwing haymaker after haymaker. Guys were staggering around because both teams were competing so hard.
“There’s no regrets on our end. Sometimes you get beat. Denver was the better basketball team in this series.”
So Denver, which never won an ABA title despite lasting all nine seasons in that league before the 47 they endured as an NBA also-ran until last night, is finally at the apex of their mountain. That team began as the Rockets, but as the likeilhood of their joining the NBA increased and, unlike the CFL, they didn’t want to have two teams with the same nickname (Houston had dibs), they renamed the team in honor of the FIRST Denver Nuggets team, which came over to the NBA in 1949-50 and promptly went 11-51 before being folded along with six other teams that had been absorbed by the smaller, flyover-state centric NBL with them, Teams like the Chicago Stags, Anderson Packers, Waterloo Hawks and Sheboygan Red Skins, among others.
And, to be sure, although the Jazz haven’t won a damn thing as they now come up on their golden anniversary season. and more than 40 years since they relocated from New Orleans to Utah, there was an ABA championship team in Salt Lake City. The Stars, a team that was born as the Anaheim Amigos and then became the Los Angeles Stars, a replacement in the old Sports Arena for the newly relocated Lakers, drew roughly 2500 fans a game even in a year when they shocked the ABA with a trip to the league finals after a surprising fourth place finish in a five-team Western Division. With star NBA center Zelmo Beaty leading the way, Utah won the title in their first professional season. They’re still waiting for number two.
And Phoenix? Well, Arizona isn’t technically mountain time year-round. And they’re still seeking their first NBA championship.
But Denver has theirs. And they deserve all the accolade you can muster. These Nuggets are indeed Golden.