John Tomase

Three reasons why Nuggets are easy to root for in NBA Finals

In case Celtics fans need more motivation to root against the Heat in this year's Finals...

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The NBA Finals open Thursday and the Celtics won't be there. I find this fact alternately annoying and appropriate. The C's never really coalesced after a 21-5 start that marked the beginning and unfortunate end of their redemption tour. Their business shall remain, alas, unfinished.

That leaves two teams vying for the crown, and I know which one I'll be rooting for. Here are three reasons I hope the Nuggets win it all.

1. Nikola Jokic is a wonder

Everyone races to make the Larry Bird comparison, but Jokic is more like prime Bill Walton, the outrageously gifted 7-footer who could pass like a guard, shoot like a forward, and post like an old-fashioned big man.

Jokic is the rare player whose run-of-the-mill Thursday night game in February plays like a highlight reel. Here he is throwing a no-look 45-foot bounce pass in the open floor. There he is stepping back with a rainbow 3. Here he is drawing two defenders and whipping a left-handed pass to the corner. There he is nailing a floater in traffic. Lobs, no-looks, pocket passes – they're all in his arsenal on a nightly basis.

The world is about to see what Nuggets fans watch every night, and it's breathtaking. I'm not sure how Vegas would quantify this, but I'd love to lay money on Jokic doing something jaw-dropping in the first three minutes of Game 1. It's a lock.

He already owns half (two) of the 30-point, 20-rebound triple-doubles in postseason history, and it wouldn't be a shock if he adds a third before it's over. Because Jokic sees the entire floor, his teammates never stop moving. The Nuggets are a joy to watch. Hopefully, the Celtics are paying attention.

2. Bruce Brown loves Boston

The NBA is actually in the midst of a mild Boston-area renaissance, between Milwaukee's Pat Connaughton (St. John's Prep), former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams (Hamilton), and Philly's Georges Niang (Lawrence). Feel free to claim New Hampshire's Duncan Robinson via Williams College, too.

But if there's one player who has made his hometown central to his NBA identity, it's Denver sparkplug Bruce Brown. Back in his Pistons days, Brown asked visiting teams not to introduce him as a University of Miami product, but as a native of Boston, Mass.

He speaks with legitimate pride in his hometown, which hasn't been a basketball hotbed since producing Patrick Ewing and Dana Barros in the 1980s.

"When they say I'm from Boston, it just makes me feel better," Brown told The Boston Globe in 2019. "I just want that to be known that that's where I'm from. That's where I was raised and I don't want that to change."

A playoff thorn in the side of the Celtics over the previous two years with the Nets, Brown has blossomed in Denver. He just averaged a career-high 11.5 points per game to go along with four rebounds and three assists.

Befitting a player from this area, the former Wakefield High star is a grinder who can play anywhere from point guard to small forward while making hustle plays all over the court.

The Celtics won't be raising a banner this month, but maybe a proud Boston kid will.

3. Jamal Murray plays without fear

The Celtics had their pick of two pretty good freshmen at No. 3 in the 2016 NBA Draft. They went with Cal's Jaylen Brown, and even after his terrible performance in Game 7 vs. the Heat on Monday, it's hard to argue with the selection of a second-team All-NBA player.

Their other option might be the better player, though. Kentucky sharpshooter Jamal Murray wasn't as physically developed as Brown seven years ago, but there was a lot to like about his game, which he has taken to another level this postseason.

Whereas Brown remains turnover-prone and inconsistent offensively, Murray has emerged as a killer. He returned from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season to average 20 points a night on nearly 40 percent 3-point shooting.

He has been even better in the playoffs, averaging nearly 28 points, six rebounds, and six assists a game. Among his breakthrough performances – consecutive 37-point outbursts vs. the Lakers that powered Denver's sweep in the conference finals.

Where Brown regressed this postseason, Murray has elevated his game. When he catches the ball behind the arc, he comes up firing. The Celtics could use a dose of his swagger.

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