Semifinals sweep should not define Nuggets' season

Published June 17, 2021, 8:00 PMRenee Ticzon

Despite getting swept by the Suns in the West semis, league MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets still have a lot to look forward to.

Don’t let the bad finale fool you into thinking the Denver Nuggets’ season was not a good one. Finishing in the semifinals after losing so many key players to injuries is already an achievement in itself.

At the beginning of the season, critics thought Denver’s Western Conference Finals appearance last season was a fluke. There were doubts on whether Jamal Murray could replicate his bubble performance after a slow start. 

Murray averaged just 18.1 points in the months of December and January after blowing up for 50 points twice in the bubble. The burden was on Nikola Jokic’s shoulders, who had to carry his team game after game while the rest tried to get into rhythm.

Soon after, the Nuggets started picking up the pace. They looked similar to the Denver team that made it to the WCF which gave their fans a lot of hope. This was later amplified by the trade deadline deal that put Aaron Gordon in their lineup.

They looked like a star team set up to beat powerhouses like the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. The roster was filled with a group of young guys who complemented each other. Each player had a role in the system with Jokic leading the charge.

This team was hoping to replicate last season’s run, but then Murray went down with an ACL injury. Everyone counted the team out. They felt that without their super guard, the Nuggets’ chances of making the playoffs may be slim to none.

Jokic, however, took the challenge and made the impossible possible. He led Denver to a 9-1 record, even without his partner.

This was also about the same time that Michael Porter Jr. became the next man up. MPJ had to fill in Murray’s minutes, which gave him the perfect opportunity to make his mark. Prior to the All-Star break, MPJ only averaged 14.6 points in 28.6 minutes. After the break, his scoring shot up to 22.3 points in 33.4 minutes.

The Nuggets’ effort was enough to not only make the playoffs, but also secure home court advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers. All eyes were on Jokic, who was a consistent piece and the reason the Nuggets even made it that far. The close series favored Denver which brought them to the next round against the Phoenix Suns.

The semifinals series put a bitter end to what was quite the year for the Nuggets, who was swept by the Chris Paul-Devin Booker duo and the Suns. It also caused an abrupt end to Jokic’s best season so far in the NBA, after he was ejected in the third quarter with a flagrant 2 foul.

It was a tough finale, but it shouldn’t distract Nuggets fans from the fact that this was a good season. The team made acquisitions that could benefit them in the long run, including Gordon, JaVale McGee, Facundo Campazzo, and Austin Rivers. It also has a budding star in MPJ who can complement Murray and Jokic perfectly.

Not to mention, Jokic made franchise history as the first MVP in Denver’s 45 years in the league. He ended the regular season with career-high averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. In the postseason, he increased those numbers to 29.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.

Moving forward, the Nuggets seem to not have any big offseason moves, but then again, that’s what everyone thought prior to the trade deadline. Jokic also expressed that he wants to stay in Denver, so the Nuggets’ front office isn't too concerned about their franchise player in the next few years.

If the team is thinking of making changes, most likely they will gear towards adding more bench firepower. With Murray back next season, the Nuggets are expected to have another deep run. They might even replicate their WCF appearance last season.

Denver struggled to make any significant strides in the semifinals because the team was outmatched by the young and deep Suns roster. If they plan on making it big next season, then increasing the talent level will be essential to their success.

However, one thing is for sure, Jokic is happy with his team. That’s the best thing that Nuggets fans can hear right now from the league’s Most Valuable Player.