Matt Brooks
Writer & Digital Content Specialist

The Denver Nuggets are one win away from advancing to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.

To do so, they've punched the Los Angeles Lakers in the mouth in the Western Conference Finals by ratting off three-straight victories to begin the series. No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history, so the Nuggets are sitting as pretty as one can be.

Getting here required one of Denver's most impressive victories of the postseason, a 119-108 win in Game 3 on the road. The Nuggets brought a businessman-like approach to Los Angeles. Though instead of gathering around a conference table, Denver handed business in the hostile environment of Crypto.com Arena and silenced the Laker-faithful crowd.

"We talked about it after Game 2 in Denver how we wanted to come in and make this a business trip as far as trying to come in here and get two games and not just one. We came out very professional and got it done," said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Denver has carried this mentality of professionalism throughout the entire year. They finished with the #1 seed in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history and held first place for over 100 days during the regular season.

As such, Denver's had homecourt advantage in every playoff series they've played in, and they've gone up 2-0 in all three series. They're still undefeated at home to this point.

What's left for Denver is a convincing series sweep.

They won Game 3 in Minnesota in the first round but then dropped Game 4. The loss elicited rare feelings of disappointment during this successful playoff run and forced the Nuggets to play one last game at home.

Denver also dropped both road games in Phoenix after taking a convincing 2-0 lead in the second round. The Nuggets didn't want to repeat history while faced up against a team as talented as Los Angeles, who cuts its teeth on defense and boasts two Hall of Fame supernovas in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

"Last round, we went into Phoenix and we gave up two games. We wanted to change that narrative. We went up 2-0, so we wanted to come on the road and make this really a business-like trip. We're coming to get both games. Got one tonight," said Caldwell-Pope about Game 3. "Just Monday, we gotta continue to do what we did here and try to come out with a second."

That's what makes this Denver team special. They're leveling up every playoff round, both in their focus and with their play.

The Lakers' backs were against the wall on Saturday. Lose a pivotal Game 3 at home and your playoff run is basically over. Again, no team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit. Denver was always going to get Los Angeles' best shot.

Well aware of this, the Mile High crew came out with intensity to build an early first quarter 32-20 lead. Denver has outscored Los Angeles in two of the three first quarters of the Conference Finals, and they tied the Lakers, 27-27, in the other one. Punching first has been a major theme throughout the series.

"We came out aggressive in the mindset of, you know, this is a business trip. We wanted to come in and apply the pressure and not let them apply pressure first. We wanted to throw the first punch. We came in strong in the first quarter and did exactly what we wanted to do," said Caldwell-Pope.

Strong defense also fueled the furious Game 3 victory. Denver held Los Angeles to 108 points, and in Game 2, they allowed an even stingier 103 points. For a team that hangs its hat on its offensive output, the Nuggets have been just as relentless on the defensive side of the ball.

"I think we've just been on a string. We're on the same page of what we're doing. Even when we mix it up in timeouts, adjustments, and game-to-game, everybody's on the same page. When we mess up, we don't get too down. I think that's the biggest thing, just next possession and get back to it," said Jamal Murray. "You can't hang your head in the playoffs, and we're doing a good job of just trucking along and getting back on the same page."

Playing games possession-by-possession requires focus and determination, all of which fall under the ethos of treating Games 3 and 4 of the Conference Finals as a business trip.

"I mean, we came here with, I think, the good focus, good mindset. We played the game really good," said Nikola Jokić about Game 3. "The whole focus was really, really good. We had a couple of misunderstandings and miscommunications. But I think in global, it was good. They scored 108 points. That's a really good number."

That process doesn't happen overnight. The Nuggets built this maturity over the years and are now stealing playoff games on the road. Plus, they've added veterans like Caldwell-Pope, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan that have only aided that process. As Malone pointed out, this is Denver's fifth year in the postseason. They know what to expect.

"I think this team is playoff-tested," said Malone. "This is five years in a row, and we've advanced out of the first round most of those years, except last season when we lost to the eventual World Champion in Golden State."

Of course, Denver's business trip isn't over. It isn't quite the time to put away that suit and briefcase in the closet just yet. They still have to take Monday's Game 4 on the road against the Lakers, who have nothing to lose. It's widely believed that a closeout game with a 3-0 series lead is the hardest game to win.

"I think the mindset is you have to go out there and take it. At this point in the season, I just told the guys after this win: you're fighting human nature. Up 3-0, what's the natural inclination? Take a deep breath and relax. That's when you get yourself into trouble," said Malone about his group's mentality headed into Game 4.