The past two decades have seen a lot of memorable moments in Denver Nuggets history — from the good and bad to the beautiful and ugly.
The franchise accomplished things never before seen, while also reaching lowly depths. They’ve enjoyed great players, while also enduring head-scratching moments.
Full of heartbreak and joy, laughter and awe, these remarkable occasions have added to the team’s long and storied history.
In that vein, we countdown the most memorable of these moments since the dawn of the new millennium:
20. Jamal steals a win against the Bucks
Trailing by three with 4.1 seconds to play, the Nuggets needed a miracle against the Bucks. They got it when Jamal Murray stole the inbounds pass, was fouled attempted a game-tying three-pointer and then calmly drained all three free throws to force overtime. Denver ultimately won the game, improving to 42-35 on the season and keeping them in the race for a 2018 playoff berth.
19. Kickstarting the Warriors dynasty
Coming off of a 57-win season, most though the third-seeded Nuggets would make quick of the sixth-seeded Warriors. Denver won game one, but an injury to Golden State big man David Lee changed the course of basketball history. It forced the Warriors to go small the rest of the series, finding the formula for success that would ultimately turn them into a dynasty later in the decade.
18. Jokic baseball pass against the T-Wolves
In a crucial game late in the season, the Nuggets held a precarious 105-104 lead with 1:04 to play in the fourth quarter at Minnesota. That’s when Nikola Jokic made one of the most-daring passes ever seen, a length of the court bomb that hit Malik Beasley in stride for a key layup. See the pass at the 2:22 mark of the included video.
17. Nuggets win big in the Big Easy
Having never advanced past the first round during the Carmelo Anthony years, there were still questions about whether the Nuggets could win in the playoffs. A loss in New Orleans in Game 3 added even more pressure, something Denver responded to in glorious fashion. Melo and Company won 121-63, a 58-point margin of victory, to seize control of the series.
16. The popcorn incident
J.R. Smith thought it would be funny to fill Kenyon Martin’s car with popcorn during a game. The veteran forward didn’t find any humor in the prank, however. The teammates nearly came to blows, as K-Mart wasn’t happy with his ride getting damaged. While a ballboy did the deed, Martin was going to take it out of Smith’s hide.
15. Jamal pours in 48 against the Celtics
Kyrie Irving might not have been happy with the young Nuggets guard trying to hit the 50-point mark at the buzzer, but that didn’t take away from the impact of Jamal Murray’s monster game against the Celtics. It put the young player on the NBA map, establishing him as a scorer who can put up numbers on par with the best in the game.
14. Gary Harris beats the Thunder at the buzzer
In front of a national television audience, the upstart Nuggets were trying to prove that they belonged in the conversation with teams like the Thunder, who boasted a roster that included Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Gary Harris hitting a game-winning three-pointer as time expired, and then memorably running into the tunnel in celebration, did just that on this night.
13. Melo’s 33-point quarter
The Nuggets were trailing the Timberwolves at halftime, but Carmelo Anthony pretty much singlehandedly rectified that situation. In the third quarter alone, Denver’s star forward scored in every way imaginable, pouring in 33 points, breaking David Thompson’s record for most points in a quarter and leading the Nuggets to a victory.
12. Denver hires George Karl
On Jan. 28, 2005, the Nuggets proved that they were serious about winning, as they hired one of the most-successful coaches in NBA history. Karl had an immediate impact on the team, taking over a team that was floundering at 17-25 and posting a 32-8 the rest of the way. From that moment on, Denver was a contender in the Western Conference.
11. Jokic’s dominates in the Big Apple
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when a star is born. For Nikola Jokic, however, most would suggest that it happened on Feb. 10, 2017. That was the day he scored 40 points against the Knicks, dominating on the venerable Madison Square Garden floor. From that moment until now, the Nuggets have been Jokic’s team, as everything is built around their center.
10. J.R. scores 43 points off the bench
J.R. Smith could be maddening at times, especially to head coaches who didn’t understand his shot selection. But when he was feeling it, the guard was among the most-explosive scorers in the league. Such was the case on this night, when Smith poured in 43 points off the bench, including 30 in the second half and 23 in the fourth quarter.
9. Melo’s gets the Nuggets back to the postseason
Even though they’d ultimately lose the series in five games, Denver getting back to the playoffs for the first time in nine years was a huge accomplishment. It came just one year after the Nuggets finished 17-65, a testament to the impact of rookie Carmelo Anthony on the franchise’s fortunes. The crowd at Pepsi Center for Game 3 was deafening, a sign of things to come in future years.
8. Melo’s game-winner to beat the Mavericks
Leading the second-round series 2-0, the Nuggets had a chance to seize control in Game 3 at Dallas. But trailing by two in the final seconds, things didn’t look good. When the Mavericks failed to use the foul they had to give, however, Carmelo Anthony drained a game-winning three-pointer from the right side to give Denver a commanding lead in the series.
7. The Nuggets lose the draft lottery
Heading into the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, the Nuggets were tied with the Cavaliers for the best chance to earn the No. 1 overall pick, which would result in high-school prodigy LeBron James becoming a part of the lucky franchise. Not surprisingly, Denver didn’t get a good bounce of the ping pong ball, falling all the way to the third-overall pick in the draft.
6. K-Mart shoves Dirk
Were the Nuggets ready for the big time? Could they step in and take on Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in a playoff series? Kenyon Martin answered that question quickly, drawing a flagrant foul in the first quarter of Game 1 when he shoved the future Hall of Famer out of bounds. It set the tone for the series, which the Nuggets would win in five games.
5. A.I. arrives in Denver
A blizzard delayed Allen Iverson’s arrival in the Mile High City after a blockbuster trade brought him to the Nuggets, but the guard made it just in time for a home game against the Kings. Although the Nuggets lost, Iverson’s 22 points showed what he’d bring to the table during his short stint in Denver, a big-time scorer no matter the circumstances.
4. Marathon game against the Blazers
The end result wasn’t what the Nuggets wanted, but their four-overtime battle against the Blazers in Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals was still epic. In a heroic effort, Nikola Jokic logged 64 minutes that night, scoring 33 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and passing out 14 assists in the process. It was a bitter loss, but a memorable game.
3. Chauncey dons No. 7
When Chauncey Billups rejoined the Nuggets in November 2008, he returned as a proven winner and leader. He also knew how to connect with the fans, given that he grew up in Denver and went to CU. Billups chose the No. 7, a nod to Broncos legend John Elway. And the quarterback appreciated the gesture, helping to fire up the crowd prior to a postseason game against the Mavericks.
2. Detroit selects Darko
When the Nuggets landed the third pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, most fans thought they were doomed. LeBron James was going to go No. 1 overall, while Carmelo Anthony would go second. That left Darko Milicic for Denver, a player Kiki Vandeweghe coveted. Fortunately, the Pistons saved the general manager from himself, taking Darko and letting Melo fall to the Nuggets.
1. 2009 Western Conference Finals
It ended in painful fashion, but that doesn’t detract from the accomplishment. The Nuggets to the eventual-champion Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals, the farthest the franchise has ever advanced in the playoffs. The highlights can be a little painful to watch, especially some inbounds passes gone awry, but they show just how close Denver came to winning a title.
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