They couldn't mount a comeback for the third consecutive series, but the Denver pair of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are still proud of the Nuggets' run to the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets established themselves as the comeback kids of the playoffs by twice overturning 3-1 deficits. They did it against the Utah Jazz in the first round, and again during the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers.
A third comeback proved too much to ask even for the gritty Nuggets, however, as the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated them in five games to win the conference and advance to the NBA Finals.
"It was an experience. It was something that we are going to remember our whole life," Jokic said of the Nuggets' experience inside the NBA bubble in Orlando, where they won six elimination games before succumbing to the Lakers.
"We're going to remember this our whole life. We had a really good group of guys. There was a lot of fight in us," he added.
Jokic had 20 points and seven rebounds in Denver's 117-107 loss in Game 5, while Murray played through a bone bruise and finished with 19 points and eight assists.
As they have done all throughout the playoffs, the Nuggets erased a double-digit lead by the Lakers and tied the game at 84 towards the end of the third quarter.
But they gave up a three-pointer to Anthony Davis just before the third quarter buzzer, and had no answer for LeBron James in the fourth quarter. With Murray hobbled and Jokic dealing with foul trouble, the Nuggets ran out of steam in the closing minutes.
"We didn't want to quit. Today they were good," said Jokic, who acknowledged that James was "amazing," particularly in the fourth wherein he scored 16 of his 38 points.
Still, the Nuggets can take solace in how they pushed the Lakers.
After getting blown out in Game 1, they very nearly stole Game 2, only for Davis to hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer for the win. They held off the Lakers in Game 3 to stay alive, and refused to go away quietly in both Games 4 and 5.
"We played hard, played together. We fought for one another. We trust one another more than we did during the regular season," said Murray, who established himself as a star in the postseason with several high-scoring games and clutch heroics.
"We proved we can challenge the Clippers, who were the favorites. We proved we can challenge the Lakers. And it's only our second year in the playoffs. I wish things went differently, but I'm just proud of our guys, proud of everything we have done, everything we have accomplished," he added.
Jokic said that they made the series "interesting," and showed that they had no quit in them even with their backs against the wall.
"That's something that, even today they were up 16, I think, we didn't quit. We didn't quit. We didn't throw the game away. And that's something that is going to be our mentality and our focus in the next years," he said.
"So just don't quit, keep fighting, effort, and just give yourself a chance to win the game. That's the only thing that we can ask," he added.
The question now for the Nuggets is how they can build on this unexpected run to the Western Conference Finals. Murray and Jokic are expected to get better, but it remains to be seen how the roster around them will shape up. Several of their players, including Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap, will be free agents at the end of the season.
Grant made himself a target of other teams after putting up 20 points and nine rebounds in Game 5 while showing no fear in guarding James and Davis.
Regardless of how their offseason goes, Denver coach Michael Malone says the future is bright for the team.
"I think this series was a hell of a lot closer than the 4-1 would indicate. No silver lining, but I'm encouraged by the growth, maturity, and development of all of our players. And our young guys are only going to get better, which is really exciting if you're a Denver Nuggets fan," he said.