So, I decided to take in the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics game on Monday. I was curious about Denver’s hot start and wanted to see for myself what all the buzz was about.
Color me impressed.
Let’s start with this: For years the Nuggets have been soft — a finesse team that if you punched them in the mouth they would wilt.
Against Boston, Denver looked hapless early. They fell behind by 18 points. Old Nuggets teams would be done right there.
This team shrugged it off as if it was no big deal and quickly wiped out that deficit by halftime.
There’s a grittiness to this team. They can play defense. They can grind their way back into games. Add that to their above-average athleticism, and it shouldn’t be a surprise they’re off to their best start since the mid-1970s.
Jamal Murray was a blast to watch against Boston. Here is someone who loves the idea of going up against the league’s best guards — whether it’s a Steph Curry or a Kyrie Irving.
Head coach Michael Malone says the next step for Murray is to bring that kind of intensity to every matchup. But that will come. What matters is here is someone who relishes the big moments, the big showdowns, the chance to make a name for himself by going head-to-head with the NBA’s best.
That’s a rare quality.
The Nuggets bench continues to impress. Against the Celtics, the Denver group of Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris outplayed the supposedly deeper Boston bench.
It wasn’t even close.
And the Nuggets did all this without much from Nikola Jokic, who played a pretty passive, foul-plagued game. Think about it. Denver beat a motivated Boston team with a so-so effort from supposedly their best player.
But as great as this start is, the Nuggets are trying to keep it in perspective.
I asked Malone after the game if his team has made a statement with their 9-1 start, including wins over Golden State and Boston — picked by many to be the two teams that meet in the NBA Finals. He totally downplayed the idea, saying they still have 70 plus games left to play.
That’s smart. As terrific as this start is, this is still a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series in a decade. They haven’t made the playoffs for several years. Let’s see this team get in the playoffs, which is now a given, and win a series or two. That still remains the most realistic goal for this team.
I get it. Going 9-1 gets people thinking big. I overheard conversations after the game about how this team could go to the Western Conference Finals and maybe even beat Golden State. Whoa. Easy there. Let’s walk before we run.
That being said, there is a different feel around this team. I felt it in person the other night. It was exciting. It was impressive. It was fun.
It should be a heck of a ride.