Here's why Denver Nuggets went crazy over Juancho Hernangómez's late three-pointer
It’s a sight hard to miss at Denver Nuggets games.
Whether it’s after a big play like a clutch three or a more mundane one like made free throw in the third quarter, Juancho Hernangómez is off the bench doing whatever he can to support his teammates.
It might be jumping up with a celebratory dance or a being the first player to give his teammate a high five – Hernangómez is always there.
On Tuesday night, the third-year forward’s teammates returned the favor.
With Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Trail Blazers already in hand, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone gave some of his deep reserves some much-deserved playing time at the 2:29 mark in the fourth quarter. Hernangómez was one of the final two substitutes and he took full advantage of a rare moment to shine. Mason Plumlee drove into the lane and spotted Hernangómez wide open on the right corner. Plumlee pulled off an impressive behind-the- back bounce pass and Hernangómez swished the three from the corner with ease. Pepsi Center erupted after the shot and his teammates went absolutely nuts with their celebration being akin to a game-winning shot.
“It was a happy moment, it was lovely that all of the team supported me,” Hernangómez said after the game.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 8, 2019
Hernangómez’s teammates weren’t being patronizing, rather it was a celebration of just how valuable he is in the locker room.
“Juancho, [he’s] an unbelievable teammate. Just an unbelievable teammate,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said with a smile after Game 5. “We were so happy for him, excited for him. He always the guy that’s motivating everybody – especially me. He pushes me a lot and I love him. I love his energy and love everything that he brings to the table.”
Nikola Jokić shared the same sentiments.
“I love Juancho,” Jokić said. “He’s probably the funniest teammate, right now, in our locker room. He’s a great guy. He’s always positive. You’re not going to see one guy saying something bad about Juancho.”
In November and December, Hernangomez showcased just why the Nuggets selected him 15th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft as he averaged 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and shot 49.3 percent from the field – including 44.1 percent from downtown. As several players returned from injury, the 23-year-old saw his minutes decrease. Yet, Hernangómez refused to sulk, insisting that he remained focused on larger goals.
“It’s a tough moment when you’re out of the rotation and you don’t play,” Hernangómez said. “But I think on teams, you know your role. I think that’s one of our keys: The players who don’t play, we are cheering everyone and doing our job. We all want the same goal.”
He added, “I love these guys. We’ve been really working hard, three years, four years, and it’s all for the same goal. We’re close to where we want to be. This is like my family. If I don’t play, OK I wish I played, but I don’t feel bad, I don’t feel hurt. I’m watching my teammates make buckets, like I’m making buckets. I love all of them. When they play good, I’m really happy for them. When they play bad, I try to cheer them. That’s my job right now.”
In many ways, Hernangómez’s ability to embrace his role is symbolic of the overall success the Nuggets have had this season. As cliché as it might sound, players one through 15 have seen their roles evolve and shift throughout this campaign and they’ve adapted to it. Whether it’s the continued rise of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić or a four-time All-Star like Millsap becoming a mentor, the team’s chemistry is the reason why its’ one win away from reaching the Western Conference for the first time since 2009.
“That’s just the type of guys that we have in the locker room,” Millsap said. “That’s what makes us a special locker room, everyone is pulling for each other and wants each other to succeed.”