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Brown Relishing NBA Finals Opportunity

Brown Relishing NBA Finals Opportunity

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

Bruce Brown has had time to savor the moment – and even play a little golf along the way.

With his Denver Nuggets sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals and the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat still duking it out in the East, Brown has been more than able to relax a bit and let the reality sink in that soon enough he’ll be playing in the NBA Finals.

It’s not an opportunity he’s taking for granted.

“You dream about being in situations like this,” Brown said Friday in Denver after the Nuggets wrapped up their first practice ahead of the Finals. “I never really used to watch the Finals. The only time I did watch it is when I was growing up and was a Celtics fan and they were there. But now, approaching it, it’s crazy. My phone has been blowing up ever since the sweep.

“I can’t wait for it to get started.”

When the NBA Finals begin next week, Brown – who played collegiately at Miami for Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga and faced off against former Miami teammate Lonnie Walker IV and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals – will no doubt look to continue the strong play that’s been on display of late.

In the postseason, Brown has averaged 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. In Denver’s last 10 games specifically, those numbers have increased to 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

Throughout the playoffs, he’s been a force for Denver off the bench, with his career-high 25-point effort in a conference semifinal win over Phoenix helping the Nuggets take a 3-2 lead in that series, a series they’d win one game later.

Needless to say, teammates and coaches had plenty of praise for Brown that night.

“He can push the pace, he can defend, he can go downhill, and he had ten free throws,” two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić said of Brown’s performance after that 118-102 win over Phoenix. “He leads us just by going downhill, breaking that first line of defense. He made a couple shots, he scored 25 points. He was really good today.”

Said Nuggets coach Michael Malone of Brown’s effort against the Suns, “I thought Bruce was outstanding…Bruce Brown in 27 minutes [had] 25 points, five rebounds [and was] 9 of 10 from the foul line. Playing downhill, playing to the rim, playing in attack mode, that’s when Bruce is at his best…I thought Bruce’s productivity and aggression and toughness were much needed.”

His college coach hasn’t been surprised by Brown’s postseason performance, either.

“Bruce is kind of like a Swiss army knife. He can do so many things. He can play the point, he can ball screen, he can use the ball screen. He’s very, very good at a lot of things and he fits in well with the Nuggets,” Larrañaga said. “Playing with a guy like Jokić and Jamal Murray, he’s able to just help them because he’s so good defensively, he gets loose balls, he gets tip-ins, he gets fast-break layups, he gets assists and steals. He’s a great fit for those guys.”

Now Brown’s efforts have helped bring him to this moment: playing in the NBA Finals in either his hometown of Boston or in Miami, the city where he played college basketball.

Both, he said, would be special in their own ways.

“As I said, me growing up a Celtics fan, watching the NBA Finals when they were there, it would be insane…It would be great,” Brown said of the possibility of returning to Boston to play for a championship. “I’d be in front of my family, my people back where I went to high school.”

But returning to Miami would have meaning, too.

Throughout his career, Brown has always celebrated his trips to South Florida, often donning the Hurricanes’ colors when he’s been in the Kaseya Center.

In fact, when the Nuggets visited the Heat back in February, Brown took the floor in orange and green sneakers adorned with Miami’s famous “U” logo.

He went on to score 16 points that night in Denver’s 112-108 win over the Heat.

“It would definitely be cool,” Brown said of the chance to potentially play in Miami during the NBA Finals. “Would probably practice at The U, be around Coach L and all those guys down there and I could finally congratulate them for making it to the Final Four in person…I loved my two years at Miami, it would be great.”

Wherever the NBA Finals may take him, Brown is relishing the opportunity to play for a championship and he’s more than enjoyed the chance to do it with the Nuggets.

“I think coming into the year, we always knew we had a chance to be here, and we’ve proved it all year,” Brown said. “There’s been ups and downs, for sure, but the biggest thing we improved on was defense. Early in the year, it was nonexistent, kind of. Or some games, it was there and some games it wasn’t. But on the defensive end, we got a lot better.”

And in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes will be cheering him on as he steps onto basketball’s biggest stage.

“Bruce comes back in the summertime and he’s such a loyal alum. Everybody in the program – coaches, past players, current players – we all love Bruce,” Larrañaga said. “He’s very, very supportive…I heard his quotes, someone asked him who he wanted to play: the Celtics or the Heat and he said, ‘If we go to Boston, I’ll be near family and if we go to Miami, I’ll be near family, too because everybody there in Miami is like family to me.’…

“He said in his interview, if they’re playing the Heat, he’ll be over at our practice facility shooting. For our players to see that, and know how confident and comfortable he is as an NBA player…it all started with his success as a Miami Hurricane player.”