Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

Denver Nuggets main man Jamal Murray barrel his way past Clippers’ Patrick Beverly (21) and Kawhi Leonard. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

  • The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla: Just about everyone had LA vs. LA written in for the Western Conference finals.

Then along came the resilient Denver Nuggets, who crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. They will face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers starting Friday in Game 1.

But this was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against Utah before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7 again.

They made history, too, becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same postseason. As expected, Denver is an underdog against the Lakers. Murray & Co. are used to it.

“Everybody counts us out. It’s fun to silence everybody,” Murray said. “We love it.”

The last time the Nuggets were in the conference finals they faced the Lakers as well, losing in six games. That squad was coached by George Karl and boasted Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers were led by the late Kobe Bryant and would go on to win the NBA title over Orlando. This time, Denver features a play-making point guard in Murray and a center who thinks of himself as a point guard in Jokic.

Combined, they've helped the Nuggets go 6-0 in elimination games this postseason. Pressure doesn't bother them.

“It’s just fun, the journey,” Jokic said. “This is an interesting team. We don’t have many superstars.”

Actually, they have two burgeoning stars in Murray and Jokic. In the Game 7 win over the Clippers, Murray scored 40 points while Jokic finished with 16 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds.

The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit. They were down by double digits in Games 5, 6 and 7 but came back to win each time.

“We are not accepting that someone is better than us,” said Jokic, whose squad beat San Antonio last season in Game 7 before losing to Portland in seven games. “They really need to beat us and need to play much better than us. ... When we start playing for each other and you see the ball is flowing and the defense and everybody has everyone's back, it's really fun.”

Denver certainly quieted the noise around the Clippers, who hoped the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would lead them to their first-ever conference finals — and beyond. But LA’s stars fell flat.

“It hurts. It hurts. But we move on,” George said. “Year 1 together, first run together, of course we wanted to win this. But we’ve been very optimistic about us being together and building something going down the road.”

After a quick celebration Tuesday — of the win and coach Michael Malone's 49th birthday — the Nuggets will be ready to get back to business.

“We know what we got,” Murray said. “We're a top-four team in the league and we're trying to push to be No. 1. ... We've got a squad that we believe in each other and know we can go out there and win it.”


Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.