MIAMI — The look in Nikola Jokic’s eyes went from murderous to euphoric in the second it took for a long shot to leave the fingertips of Nuggets teammate Bruce Brown and rip a hole in the heart of the Miami Heat.
“When (Brown) took a step back three, I almost…wanted to hit him. But when he did, I was so happy,” Jokic admitted in the opening minutes of Saturday morning, after the clock struck midnight on Miami’s Cinderella dance through the NBA playoffs. .
The Nuggets beat the Heat 108-95 to take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and move within a victory of the first championship in franchise history.
As Brown put the exclamation mark on Game 4 by drilling a 3-point shot with one minute, 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Jokic’s reaction was priceless. Standing on the baseline near Denver’s bench, the two-time MVP shrugged his massive shoulders with palms facing up that shouted “What do you think?” when Brown launched his shot from 27 feet.
But when the ball crossed the net, Jokic almost jumped out of his trainers for joy, then whipped the ground with a towel with such enthusiasm that I thought he might turn the court into kindling.
In this glorious moment, with Joker’s spirits boosted by his band of jolly Nuggets, it was possible to see why the team wouldn’t settle for just one championship parade around downtown Denver.
General manager Calvin Booth seems determined to build a contender built to last. Rather than sit in the Finals, he rolled and dealt the morning of Game 4 for future draft picks.
Now, with the champagne so close, the Nuggets can smell the sweet smell of success, the goal is not one, not two… but as many rings as Jokic can earn before retiring and returning home to Serbia .
These Nuggets were not born champions. But they grew together to prove all their doubters wrong.
“When I came to the league I couldn’t shoot. I wasn’t sure I was going to shoot the ball at all. I was a dude. They left me wide open and let me shoot. so weighed on my confidence, but it also put a chip on my shoulder,” recalled Brown, who scored 11 of his 21 points in the final period, thwarting any idea of a rally in Miami, despite the fact that Jokic spent more than five minutes of critical time on the bench at fault.
Did Brown say chip? These Nuggets enter the arena with boulders on their shoulders.
Brown joined the team last summer after free agency left him feeling unwanted. Guard Jamal Murray is on a mission from the basketball gods to be recognized as a star. On his way to being the first player in NBA history to score 500 points, grab 250 rebounds and dished out 150 assists in a single playoff, Jokic’s name is still taken in vain, with the center recently tagged a ton of lard by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith.
“The rumor that came into free agency last year was that I was getting a lot of offers, which I wasn’t,” Brown recalled last month. “Nobody really wanted me, because they didn’t know if I could be a goalkeeper or not. So I kind of took it personal.
I asked Booth what makes him envision Brown as an effective point guard for the Nuggets when other NBA teams lack imagination.
“I didn’t have to convince myself. I always saw him as a point guard,” Booth said. “And I had it on videotape, since he was playing in Miami in college.”
It wasn’t imagination, Booth humbly suggested. Belief in Brown was the byproduct of the endless grind and a commitment to do homework on a player years before he had the chance to spin a star on the big stage in the Finals.
The long, winding road that brought Brown to Denver began in November 2017, when Booth traveled to Minneapolis to watch the Hurricanes play undefeated and 12th overall in Minnesota.
That night, over 5½ years ago, Brown scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. But it was the way he led his team from the point – with five assists and no turnovers in an upset 86-81 win – that caught Booth’s attention.
The homework paid off when the Nuggets tagged a glue guy for a salary of $6.479 million, a bargain price in free agency by today’s NBA standards.
After winning a championship with Denver, Brown is expected to use a player option in his two-year contract to re-enter the open market, where I expect him to be paid more than $15 million a year to play elsewhere. .
“I’ve always been a player first,” Booth said. “With my front office roles, your job is to scout guys and help them achieve their dreams. It’s rewarding to see Bruce’s talent realized in a way he loves and could reward him financially.
Although the Nuggets would miss him, no one could blame Brown for leaving the team to get paid.
Get a ring, than chase the bag.
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