Nikola Jokic had blood on his elbow and every screaming Nuggets fan’s throbbing heart was filled with excitement. What happened on the night of the first Tuesday of June was much more than a sporting event.
It was the Denver crowd, who were getting up to celebrate not only their playoff win over Portland, but also shouting that COVID-19 can’t beat us.
And it was a beautiful noise. Take a bow, Denver. Greetings to you, Nuggets fans.
“They bring us life,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
Denver won 147–140 in double overtime, denied 55 points by Portland guard Damien Lillard to ruin the party. The Nuggets took a 3–2 lead in the series, making one win away from advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
But the real story here was a city coming together to embrace a large group, with the Ball Arena being roofed over by your 10,000-plus neighbors, after 15 long months when we were all under siege. Epidemic. Fans chanted “MVP!” chanted. In celebration of Jokic’s 38 points and every clenched jumper ridiculed by Portland forward Carmelo Anthony.
Off the field, behind Section 140, COVID vaccines were being given during the game to any fans who wanted to step behind the scenes and roll up their sleeves to get pricked with a needle.
Together, we are finally driving a stake through the brutal heart of the pandemic.
We will not forget the families and friends lost to COVID. But when Michael Porter Jr. spins a 3-point jumper to put the Nuggets ahead with 93 seconds left in second overtime, we scream from the bottom of our ever-loving souls because we don’t just want to survive. Happy, but also to get back the simple joys that make life worth living.
It was a classic playoff game that no one in attendance will ever forget. But this fight started slowly between NBA giants named Joker and Dame. The Blazers began begging to be beat Game 5.
With D and sizzling shooting, whatever the Nuggets did until the start of the second quarter, they hardened their mello. When Paul Milsap hit the driving layup with 7:52 remaining at halftime, Denver took a 54–32 lead.
Channel 4 anchorman Jim Benneman tweeted: “Getting ready to put in the Blazers Ryan Reeves.”
Not so fast guys. Our local NBA team has made dance an art form. Nuggets never do anything the easy way.
Denver has the league MVP, but no hammer. Instead of snuffing out the Blazers, Joker and company let Lillard warm up. Portland finished the first half on a 30–11 blitz, cutting an insurmountable Nuggets lead to just three points.
During that ugly reversal of fate, it’s worth noting that Nuggets guard Austin Rivers kicked a cup off the scorer’s table in desperation, sending it to the Portland bench, forcing coach Terry Stotts and the Blazers to leap from their seats. Ready to rumble, ready to rumble.
Passion is good, and the rivers exhale intensely with every breath. But inciting persuasive fire in your enemy? that’s dumb.
The animosity between these teams is real and the fickleness can get under anyone’s skin. But anger management has long been a primary area Jokic needs to work on.
After losing the ball trying to post Enes Cantor in the third quarter, the Joker stood in the backcourt and barked at the referee while the Blazers ran upcourt for layups. When Jokic was slapped with a technical foul, a free throw by Lillard gave Portland an 83–82 lead, with 4:05 to spare.
From there, it was an emotional rollercoaster for Hyperspeed driven by Joker and Dame, two men able to raise goose bumps on those who hid themselves behind closed doors for too long, waiting for the COVID storm to pass. Were were
“Dame was going crazy,” said Porter, watching as Lillard drilled clutch 3-point jumps in the final seconds of the fourth quarter and first overtime to prolong the sweet agony.
But the Joker laughed for the last time. Back off the court after Game 5 of a playoff series, Which Makes Us Game Grateful is back, Jokic waving, waving and acknowledging every fan in his adopted hometown, a place whose soul is unbreakable.
“I think there is mutual respect,” Jokic said.
Who knew a return to normalcy could be such a good time?
“Let’s make it a sell next time,” Malone said. “Let the 19,000 fans in.”
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