Sorry, LeBron. Sorry, Anthony Davis. Nuggets, Bruce Brown aren’t going anywhere. Except to L.A. for their close-up with destiny.
I know, America. I know. Gotta be a misprint. LeBron must be hurt. AD must be thinking about his golf game. Darvin Ham must be drawing up recipes on that white board instead of defensive sets.
I mean, it can’t be that the NBA’s No. 1 seed in the West is, oh, the best team on that side of the bracket. Surely not.
“Let them keep watching, man,” Nuggets defensive ace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said of an America that’s largely discovering this NBA monster for the first time now that it’s handed King James and the Lakers a two-game playoff losing skid. “We (were) No. 1 (in the West) for a reason.”
Know this, America: As good as they are, the Nuggets are twice as tough. And three times as stubborn.
Kendrick Perkins wants them to go the (expletive) away. Nick Wright wants them to go the (expletive) away. Lisa Salters wants them to point out to her which one Nikola Jokic is.
“I mean, if you don’t know (the Joker), I don’t know if you watch a lot of basketball or not,” Nuggets super sub Bruce Brown said after his 12 points off the bench helped Denver take a 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals Saturday in Los Angeles. “But I think if you watch a lot of basketball, you know exactly who it is.”
They’re the dinner guests who won’t leave, the cool kids’ bad penny, a network executive’s worst nightmare, ornery and obstinate to the last.
“We’re going to continue to prove everybody wrong,” KCP continued, “and we’re trying to win a championship here.”
And here’s the thing, America: They’re not leaving. Not these Nuggets. Too many good pieces. Too many ways to beat you. Too many scars. Too many old scores.
Not Jokic. Not Jamal Murray. Not coach Michael Malone. And certainly not Brown.
Bruce Brown, America. America, Bruce Brown. Have you met? No? Cool. Because on several levels, he truly embodies what this Nuggets roster is all about.
He’s listed small forward, but labels don’t really apply. Dude’s 6-foot-4, rugged as old leather, fearless as a honey badger. He can play anywhere. He can defend anybody. When Michael Porter Jr. and Caldwell-Pope got into early foul trouble in Game 2 against the Lakers, he kept the Nuggets afloat.
He can bring the ball up, he can run the offense, he can bang with big men. He can block a shot, then the lead the break the other way. He can score from anywhere.
The Nuggs are 8-0 this postseason when Brown puts up 12 points or more. They’re 3-0 when he drains more than one 3-pointer. And like the rest of this team, throwing shade only makes him … stronger.
“I feed a lot off that. Woke me up a little bit,” Brown said of the trash talk he heard from the Lakers bench late Thursday. “So I thank them for that.”
With 3:04 left in the third quarter, as Brown and Denver trailed 74-67, the Nuggets’ do-everything wing waved his arms from the top left corner as Jokic came down with an offensive rebound.
The Joker spotted his teammate and rainbowed the rock to a wide-open Brown. No. 11 set himself, knocked down a triple, then turned immediately to the L.A. bench behind him to let ‘em know who’d just dropped the dagger.
A reporter would ask later, “Did (Lakers guard and former Nugget) Malik Beasley say something?”
“Naw, it was just the team,” Brown replied.
“Do you feed off those individual matchups?”
“Was (D’Angelo Russell) yapping at all?”
The Nuggets outscored big, bad L.A. by 16 whenever Brown was on the floor Thursday. During Game 1, he’d dropped 16 points and four boards on the Lake Show.
“His defense, his energy, it’s not just (Game 2),” Jokic said of Brown, one of Nuggets exec Calvin Booth’s shrewdest off-season additions. “He’s (been) doing that since he came here, the whole year.
“Obviously, he can pick up the guys, he can guard multiple positions. Even (though) maybe he’s smaller, he’s tough, he’s fighting. It’s good to have him on our team.”
I know, America. I know. From a distance, these Nuggets feel like a bunch of misfit toys. The Joker looks like Bryant “Big Country” Reeves but plays like Magic Johnson, an optical illusion in Nikes. Murray can be ice cold for 15 minutes and a walking cheat code for the next 25. Individually, they’ll drive you batty. Collectively, they’re an unreasonable, unshakable colossus.
“We play as a team, everybody touches the ball, everybody scores, everybody does everything,” Brown explained. “So it’s not just a one-man show. But we know who the one man is.”
So do you, America. Settle in. Get comfy. Because they’re not going anywhere but Tinseltown, for a close-up that’s five decades overdue.
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