Brown Shines in NBA Finals Return to Miami

Brown Shines in NBA Finals Return to Miami

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

MIAMI – For Bruce Brown, coming to back to Miami has always been a bit nostalgic.

And this trip, to face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, has been no different.

The former Hurricanes standout wore an orange and green cap emblazoned with Miami’s famed “U” during one of his pre-game media availabilities at the Kaseya Center.

He spoke about how playing for Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga helped him become the player he is today for the Denver Nuggets.

And earlier in the week, Brown couldn’t help but think about his college days as he and his Denver teammates traveled south to Pinecrest for a team dinner at the home of veteran Nuggets forward Jeff Green.

“We drove by UM, and it just brought back memories,” said Brown, who played at Miami from 2016-2018. “Me going to the McDonald’s across the street on U.S. 1 and being in the CVS a lot. It’s great to be back.”

Great indeed, for Brown and the Nuggets.

Brown turned in one of the biggest games of his professional career in Friday night’s Game 4, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver clinch a 108-95 win over the Heat.

The victory gave the Nuggets a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and Brown is now one victory away from an NBA championship with the series set to return to Denver on Monday night.

It was a performance to savor, but Brown made it abundantly clear his work is far from finished.

“I’m not thinking about it too much. I knew coming into the league what I could do. A team had to give me a chance and [former Detroit Pistons head coach] Dwane Casey did,” said Brown, who was a second-round pick of the Pistons in the 2018 NBA Draft. “I started my rookie year, did very well, honestly. I thank him for that. Doing that on this stage, it’s amazing. But I’ll think about it when we’re done.”

Said Nuggets coach Michael Malone of Brown’s effort on Friday, “Bruce Brown, in the fourth quarter, was amazing…They were giving Jamal [Murray] so much attention, that [we thought] ‘Let’s get Jamal off the ball, let Bruce make some plays.’ He was aggressive, got to the basket, made shots and tonight was an impressive performance.”

It has been a remarkable playoff journey for Brown, who has been a force off the bench for the Nuggets throughout the postseason.

He had a career-high 25-point effort in a conference semifinal win over the Phoenix Suns helping Denver take a 3-2 lead in that series, a series the Nuggets would win one game later.

And more than once, he’s earned praise from his teammates, including two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić, who on Friday, like Malone, used the word “amazing” to describe Brown’s performance.

“When he did a step-back three, I almost…I wanted to punch him, but when he made it, I was so happy,” Jokić said. “He’s learning and he is accepting and that’s what the best thing is about him. He was really good tonight, aggressive, attacking and not being scared of the moment.”

In the postseason, Brown is averaging 12.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists. And while his play in the championship series may be a surprise to some, those who know his game best say they’ve long believed Brown was more than capable of holding his own in the NBA.

“Can I say that I envisioned him scoring 11 points [in the fourth quarter] on the road in Game 4 of the finals? I can’t say that. I did envision him being a ball-handler, a playmaker,” Malone said. “I watched him for the years I coached against him. I watched him in the playoffs last year against Boston, saw his impact of guarding guys like [Jayson] Tatum and [Jaylen] Brown. But his ability to facilitate, play with the ball, play off the ball, make shots…The one thing I know about Bruce, I know he went to college down here. He’s not afraid. We’ve got a lot of guys that have a quiet toughness about them. Bruce Brown is definitely one that embodies that Boston toughness that he brings to the table every night.”

Said Brown’s former Hurricanes teammate Dejan Vasiljevic, who was at the finals in Miami this week, “He was very versatile [at Miami]. He can do a lot of things and it shows. I think the one thing he’s very vastly improved is his shooting. I think a lot of people have to respect him…he’s knocking shots down. Bruce does everything. He’s probably the best teammate I’ve played with, hands down.”

For Brown, the journey to this moment hasn’t always been easy – a reality he acknowledged during this most recent visit to Miami.

His four-year NBA career has taken him from Detroit to Brooklyn and to Denver. He’s played out of position and had to work on his game to try and get on the floor however and whenever he could.

But in Denver, he’s found a comfort level that’s translated to success, success that now has him one win away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

“It just shows the work I’ve put in each offseason. Remember, when I first came in the league, I couldn’t shoot,” Brown said Friday. “I wasn’t confident shooting the ball at all. I was a mutt guy. They left me wide open and let me shoot, so that took a toll on my confidence. But it put a chip on my shoulder. So, I just got in the gym and worked and now, it’s showing on the biggest stage.”

Brown’s memorable playoff run has been the latest addition to what’s been a remarkable stretch for the Hurricanes program.

Last month, Brown and former Miami teammate Lonnie Walker IV of the Los Angeles Lakers faced off in the Western Conference finals. Right now, former Hurricanes standouts Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong are working their way through the NBA Draft process and after strong showings at last month’s NBA Draft Combine are hoping to hear their names called in the upcoming draft.

And this spring, Miller, Wong and the Hurricanes stormed their way through the NCAA Tournament, knocking off the likes of Drake, Indiana, top-seeded Houston and Texas to advance to the men’s Final Four for the first time in program history.

All of it has been special. All of it has been memorable. And if Brown has his way, he’ll help his former program add another accomplishment to this unforgettable stretch soon enough.

And this week, even as he made an impact on the NBA Finals just eight miles from the campus where he once starred, Brown was already looking to Miami’s future.

His hope is that moments like the ones he and the Hurricanes are experiencing become the norm for a program that has thrived under Larrañaga.

“Am I surprised? No,” Brown responded when asked about Miami’s Final Four run. “Coach L is a great coach. He gets great players to come in. They all buy into his system. They want to win. He gets winners to come in and play extremely hard, so not surprising.

“Each year, I think their goal is to win a national championship. They have the players to do that. So, I can’t wait [for] next year to start.”

First, though, Brown will try to win a championship of his own.