Heading in to the 2023 NBA playoffs, the Denver Nuggets were one of six NBA franchises to never make an appearance in the NBA Finals. With 46 seasons of play without a championship appearance to speak of, this drought was the second-longest standing in the league, behind only the Los Angeles Clippers, who have played 53 seasons.

The Nuggets also entered the postseason as one of four teams to never complete a four-game sweep in the playoffs.

Despite being the top seed in the Western Conference, dominating the top of the standings in a near wire-to-wire run, the Nuggets weren’t even the initial favorite to emerge from the Western Conference: that would be the star-studded Phoenix Suns. Even the Golden State Warriors had better odds to win the 2023 NBA Finals than Denver did, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies not too far behind, also getting some buzz.

In a seemingly irrelevant but ultimately necessary part of the story to tell, Nikola Jokic was snubbed from his third straight NBA MVP award, announced during the second round of the playoffs. The award is based on regular season performance, where Jokic did edge winner Joel Embiid in many categories. But as the postseason unfolded, it became painfully obvious who the real MVP was.

The Nuggets aren’t the first team to be in this position: a top-seeded team, rooted in fundamentals rather than a top-heavy All-Star lineup, playing in a mid-sized market that isn’t New York, Los Angeles, or the like. And they certainly won’t be the last. And while off-court narratives don’t impact the final score of games, it’s still worth noting what the Nuggets came in to the 2022-23 season and playoffs as: underdogs.

But none of that mattered as the final buzzer sounded with LeBron James missing a shot being defended by Aaron Gordon, and the Lakers missing their final chance to extend their season. Fans erupted in Ball Arena, McGregor Square, and in homes and bars across the country as the Nuggets completed a second half comeback and held on late in a nail-biter to advance to their first ever NBA Finals.

After defeating the 8th-seeded Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Minnesota Timberwolves in five games followed by Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and 4th-seeded Phoenix Suns in six games, the Nuggets pulled off a seemingly unlikely sweep in the Western Conference Finals: the first time Denver was on the winning side of a sweep in franchise history.

Don’t let the sweep fool you in to thinking this was an easy or lopsided series though. The Nuggets won by 6 and 5 points on their home court in Games 1 and 2 before winning by 11 and 2 points in Games 3 and 4. This was a close series, and the Lakers easily could have stolen a game or two and made this a five or six game series.

Dating back to Game 5 of the opening round against the Timberwolves, the Nuggets have won 9 of their last 11 games, suffering just back-to-back road losses in Phoenix by a combined 12 points. Overall, Denver is 12-3 in the postseason thus far, consistently showing up to get the job done and never losing by more than 7 points.

LeBron James put up a night for the ages to conclude his 20th season and his 5th for the Los Angeles Lakers. James played all 48 minutes, putting up 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists in a near-triple double effort. James scored 21 of his points in the first quarter as the Lakers jumped out to an early lead, but couldn’t find the same offensive rhythm in the second half.

Jokic played nearly the entire game himself, tallying a team-high 45 minutes. The two-time MVP notched his 8th triple double of the postseason (an NBA record with still one more round to go) with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists. As per usual, Jamal Murray got his fair share of points as well, scoring 25 on 10-of-18 shooting.

Jokic was unanimously named the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP after putting up 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game in the series.

The Nuggets will have a significant nine-day layoff before Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. At the time Denver advanced to the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat held a 3-0 lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. With no team ever coming back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, it is extremely likely that the Nuggets will face the Heat in the Finals: a matchup that would yield Denver home court advantage. Heading in to the playoffs, this was relatively unlikely, with the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics all holding better records than the Nuggets. But if the 8th-seeded Heat do pull through, the first ever NBA Finals game in Nuggets history will take place at Ball Arena on June 1.

The Nuggets have 12 wins down and just 4 to go on their quest to hoist their first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy. Can anything stop Denver in the NBA Finals? To stay up to date on this historic run, be sure to follow Sak Sports Blog on Twitter.

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