The wait was more than worth it.
The Denver Nuggets refused to give up on Jamal Murray on his long and difficult rehabilitation after knee surgery: no knee-jerk reaction to a tough break, no resets, no trades, no panic.
Just organizational patience and poise in the knowledge that when Murray got all the way back, anything was possible.
Anything became something special in Denver on Monday night, when Murray and the Nuggets captured the NBA championship with a 94-89 win over the Miami Heat to win the series in five games.
It was the first championship in the 47-year NBA history of the Nuggets franchise.
The Kitchener-raised Murray, who missed more than an entire season after ACL surgery, firmly re-established himself as a big-game, big-time performer throughout the Finals, and the playoffs overall.
He wasn’t brilliant in Monday’s clincher, but he made a series of big shots and big plays at big moments at Ball Arena.
He finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to become the second Canadian in two seasons to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, after Andrew Wiggins did with Golden State a year ago.
It was a fitting end to a long road back for the guard who blew a knee out in 2020 and wasn’t fully back to 100 per cent until earlier this season.
The 26-year-old Murray certainly didn’t do it alone, not with the sublime seven-foot centre Nikola Jokic alongside him. Jokic, whose overall skills are impossible to fully define or describe, had 28 points and 16 rebounds in what has become a typically dominant performance on the way to Finals MVP honours.
He and Murray, who burst onto the scene as high-calibre playoff performers in the 2020 bubble post-season, have become a dominant modern day duo.
Their pick-and-roll offence gives defences fits and creates the space for the likes of Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to become major factors for the Nuggets.
The game was far from a brilliant display of basketball, but there was a large measure of beauty in its intensity and toughness that was fitting for a championship series.
Neither team shot well, and there were bodies flying all over the court practically all night in a hammer-and-tong show of physical basketball.
Central to it for the Heat, not surprisingly, was the tough-minded Kyle Lowry, who thrives in those kinds of circumstances. Lowry finished with 12 points on four three-pointers, four assists, nine rebounds, a couple of steals and blocked shot that kept the Heat in the game.
Miami’s Jimmy Butler had a great fourth quarter and finished with 21 points, but was a non-factor through the first 36 minutes.
If there were any early game jitters, the Nuggets got over them quickly. After committing four turnovers in their first five possessions, they went on a 12-0 run that showed they were anything but nervous.
“Our guys have shown just great focus and discipline throughout the entirety of these playoffs,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said before the game. “I think it’s 19 playoff games we’ve played, and from the lead-in week to the first round against Minnesota and throughout, and today, in our shootaround, our guys have been really locked in, focused.
“And I think they all fully understand what we have and the opportunity that we have in front of us.”
The Nuggets didn’t play skittishly, but they weren’t entirely in sync in the first half. Jokic, Murray and Gordon all battled foul trouble and Denver was an abysmal 1-for-15 from three-point range in the first half.
And with Adebayo racking up 18 points and nine rebounds in the first half alone, the Heat led 51-44 at the break.
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