The Denver Nuggets had their fair share of doubters heading into the playoffs despite being a No. 1 seed. Just getting to the NBA Finals would require winning the Western Conference, which they’d never done, and getting past stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Durant with the Phoenix Suns, and LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Then there were the three teams from Eastern Conference with better records.
Nobody is questioning the Nuggets now after they beat the Miami Heat in five games to win their first championship Monday night. The 46 seasons they played before winning an NBA title are the most by any team prior to its first championship.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) June 13, 2023
Denver trailed by seven at halftime but won the final two quarters by six points apiece to close out the series with a 94-89 victory. Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic was named Finals MVP after 28 points and 16 rebounds, and guard Jamal Murray averaged 26.7 points in the postseason.
Key to the team’s dominant 16-4 postseason run was also wing Michael Porter Jr., who turned in his best game of the series Monday. He contributed 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds. The sharpshooter struggled from 3-point range in the Finals and made only one on Monday, but that 3-pointer with 1:29 left in the third quarter gave the Nuggets their first lead since the first quarter.
MPJ FOR THE LEAD 🗣
— NBA (@NBA) June 13, 2023
“To do it with this group of guys, there’s nothing like it,” he told ESPN’s Lisa Salters on the dais after the game. “This organization believed in me. … To finally do it with this group of guys, nothing could feel better than this.”
Porter appeared in a career-high 62 games during the regular season, leading the team with 188 3-pointers and ranking third in scoring at 17.4 points per game. He averaged 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in the playoffs.
It’s the type of season Denver expected when it drafted him with the 14th overall pick in 2018. But the 24-year-old has battled back injuries since college and was limited to just nine games last season.
“We would not be in this position if it wasn’t for him,” head coach Michael Malone said of Porter before Game 4. “We are not just Nikola and Jamal. We are a basketball team, Michael being a big part of that. As far as him kind of getting back into his groove, I talked to him today about understanding that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the contributions and growth that you’ve shown us throughout this year being healthy.”
The physical and emotional challenges that have come with Porter’s three back surgeries have made him even more grateful for the opportunity to play in the NBA. He told the Denver Gazette prior to the Finals that he does gratefulness journaling and surrenders everything to God.
“I feel good at this point. There are some things that I’m doing different this time around to try to just keep my back in check and everything,” Porter said. “But … it could get taken away from anybody any day, so really just trying to stay in the moment and take it day by day and do my work every day and leave the rest up to God, for real.”
While he was injured in February 2022, Porter encouraged people in an Instagram post to keep trusting in God through the tough times.
“There is a good, loving God named Jesus who died for all of us,” he wrote. “All we have to do is believe and put our faith in Him! Through all the heartache, adversity, and tough times in life continue to trust in HIM and His divine plan!”
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Porter spoke to Andscape’s Marc Spears at the beginning of this season about getting back on the court, as well as the Nuggets’ championship aspirations. He was asked what the best advice he’d received from a pastor was and focused his answer on God’s stability.
“Just reminding me who I am, reminding me why I do what I do,” he replied. “It’s not for the approval of people, it’s not for the approval of coach. You don’t even have to impress God. The thing that I’m learning is there are so many things that are unstable in life.”
Realizing how much in life is unstable has made Porter more determined to make sure he is focused on the one reliable source of love.
“A lot of people get anxious or mental problems when they’re putting their hope in love that’s unstable,” he said in the interview. “So, I’m learning how to try to get my love from a stable source, which for me is God. So, learning to put that over things that are superchanging and fleeting, like the admiration of fans or what the public says about you, that’s been a big thing that’s brought me peace.”
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