In the biggest possible moment, Christian Braun comes up huge

Jun 8, 2023, 6:27 AM | Updated: 7:14 am

There was gentle teasing on the ABC broadcast of Jeff Van Gundy’s inability to pronounce Christian Braun’s name correctly. Van Grundy, logically, pointed out the obvious conflict.

Indeed, it stands out considering the Nuggets have another player who spells his name and says it in the tradition Brown manner. But, you become him and you get to set the rules that others must follow.

Inflection points are rare to witness. When a moment changes everything forever, you hope it’s more like Facebook than Theranos. What Christian Braun did on Wednesday night was similar to inventing the “like” button.

In a stunning 19-minute performance in the Nuggets win over the Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Nuggets rookie made 7-of-8 shots for 15 points, including a world-class steal-dash-dunk that gave the Nuggets an overwhelming 21-point fourth-quarter lead. He also snagged four rebounds, including two offensive boards. Most importantly, he was plus-two, meaning he wasn’t a defensive liability as he was in Game 2.

It was a spectacular night for the rookie that didn’t go unnoticed by the best player in the world.

“I always talk about him as a champion and a winner,” said Nikola Jokic. “I think he has a future in this league.”

It’s been well-documented how much success the 22-year-old has had in his basketball life. Three Kansas State High school basketball championships, a national championship with Kansas and now two games away from an NBA championship.

“He’s very confident and he should be,” said coach Michael Malone. “He’s everything we hoped for and more.”

Aaron Gordon knows something about high expectations for rookies. AG was the future of the Orlando Magic as the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The now savvy vet was effusive in his praise.

“Man, it’s rare. He’s a very rare rookie, other than myself,” said a smiling Gordon sitting next to Braun after the game. “From day one, he’s been on top of it. This is a real winner right here. I say that because he’s always in the right spot. He’s in the right place at the right time, and he’s been doing that all year; he’s been doing that from day one. Nothing changes. He’s in the right place at the right time on the biggest stage, and now you guys are getting to see it.”

The days of treating Braun like a rookie have long since passed.

“He knows what to do to stay on the floor,” said Jamal Murray. “He’s solid, plays the gaps. He plays with a lot of confidence, like a five-year vet.”

Braun was out of sorts and out of place in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Twice in a row, he was guilty of making the wrong defensive decision on a screen. The result was a three-pointer by Gabe Vincent and driving bucket by Duncan Robinson that led to the Heat’s comeback. Despite having a significant contribution in building a 15-point first-half lead, his inexperience flared up. But, Malone didn’t lose faith in a core rotational player despite his mistakes.

“Tonight, I could just feel the confidence oozing out of him,” said Malone. “The physical, aggressive drives; making plays for guys against their zone. It was really fun to watch a young man step up the way Christian did tonight.”

Braun was a pest defensively and read the game brilliantly. On one particular play at a critical moment, instead of standing in the corner like a statue on a Jamal Murray double team at the top of the key, he aggressively made a move to the basket, where he caught a Murray dime for an easy bucket.

“Those guys have trusted me all year, put me in the right spots,” said a humble Braun. “I just have to deliver.”

What can Braun do for you? Perhaps, be a major cog in winning a championship. After all, that’s what he’s always done.

The kid just wins. Learn how to say his name.



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