It has been nine years since the last time the Denver Nuggets were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. The lessons learnt from that 2013 series are very different to those from this season.
In 2013, a six-game loss to the upstart Warriors ended the George Karl era for Denver and it was the last time the Nuggets made the playoffs for the next six seasons.
Since returning as a playoff staple in 2019, they played teams in the first round that reminded them of demons of postseason past. Demons that Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson, and more couldn’t defeat until this current core came along.
Defeating these teams felt as if divine karma or some intervention with the basketball gods, one that has hopefully allowed the team to go further and to where the franchise is now.
When the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs in 2019, it felt like the beginning of something special. It was the franchise’s first playoff win in over a decade and got back debt from 2007 when the Spurs beat the Nuggets on their way to a title.
During the 2020 playoffs, the Orlando Bubble playoffs, Denver had a classic matchup against the Utah Jazz that was ten years of payback from the team’s first-round loss from 2010. A series lost for the contending team from 2009 that was a Western Conference Finals runner up and would turn out to be the last playoffs series for the Melo era in Mile High City.
And finally, a win against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2021 without Jamal Murray was ever so sweet. Denver was able to avenge their 2019 second-round loss which included a dagger from Rodney Hood that sealed a crucial win in a seven-game series.
When this Denver Nuggets team, led by Nikola Jokic, wins a playoff series, there’s always some added payback in the victories. Each of the playoff series victories has had a revenge element to it.
This year, when the ‘revenge tour’ visited the Golden State Warriors with the championship window potentially opening with rumors of a Murray and Michael porter Jr. return, Jokic and the Nuggets were able to steal the win.
But elimination this season means the focus is now on the 2022-23 season and despite growth from the Nuggets’ core and potential offseason additions, the hill seems slightly harder to climb with early challenges.
Just like in 2013, the Golden State elimination had a similar flashback when Masai Ujiri, who was the general manager of the team at the time, left to become president of basketball operations with the Toronto Raptors.
2022 and 2013 feels has such a gap between where the world and team have been.
In 2013, the Nuggets’ star was Ty Lawson, Vine was still popular, the iPhone 5 was out, and the team would soon enter the rebuild that would the new rise of stars and have a new franchise face in Nikola Jokic.
But fans won’t have to worry about the 2022 offseason being a full rebuild like we saw with the franchise in 2013.
While Connelly has been given credit a lot of credit for the team’s success, his success could also be linked with how the Nuggets have fostered great executive talent over the years. Artūras Karnišovas, who worked under Connelly for the past few years, was part of that rebuild before leaving Denver to become the vice president of basketball operations with the Chicago Bulls.
In two seasons at the helm, he was able to turn the Bulls around from a lottery team to a potential title contender when fully healthy.
It was hard but still, the train kept on trucking on without Karnišovas and hopefully, Denver will do the same without Connelly.
Nuggets management will make a decision soon on the state of the franchise and for GM Calvin Booth’s potential promotion. It’s a weird state to feel after all the franchise highs over the past few seasons.
The best news of all is that Nikola Jokic is still happy with the direction of the franchise according to Mike Singer, The Denver Post. The two-time MVP is likely going to sign a supermax extension this offseason so the only job Booth will have is finding the right mix of role players around the core.
With the Warriors in the NBA Finals, hoping to win another NBA championship, it’s looking like they’ll be a force in the Western Conference for another few seasons.
While Denver couldn’t exact their revenge this postseason, maybe the basketball gods have a sweeter future ahead of them. A sweeter series victory when the Nuggets are at full strength.