2023 NBA Finals

Nikola Jokic adds NBA championship, Finals MVP to impressive resume

Nikola Jokic joins elite company in winning the Finals MVP after powering Denver to the 2023 NBA title.

DENVER — The ticker on the scoreboard counted quickly to 5,280 in delivering what seemed like the dozenth ominous warning to the visitors regarding elevation at Ball Arena.

Yet the air of desperation hung stickier inside the jam-packed house of 19,537 than the PA announcer’s repeated words of “5,280 feet.” That’s when two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic stepped up to embody the grit Denver needed down the stretch to capture the franchise’s first championship by way of a 94-89 triumph Monday against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

“We succeeded in our jobs, and we won the whole thing,” Jokic said. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a good feeling when you know you did something that nobody believes, and it’s just us. It’s just the organization, [the] Denver Nuggets believing in us, every player believing in each other.”

Finals MVP Nikola Jokic closes out Miami with 28 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists to help the Nuggets win the franchise's 1st NBA title.

Jokic carried the Nuggets during the tensest moments of an outright rock fight, pouring in 10 points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-6 shooting, finishing with a game-high 28 points and 16 boards to win the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award. The 28-year-old now ranks as one of five foreign-born players to capture Finals MVP, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Hakeem Olajuwon.

The first player in NBA history to lead the entire postseason in total points (600), total rebounds (269) and total assists (186), Jokic also becomes just the 11th player to take home multiple MVPs and an NBA title. The other names in that group? Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bob Pettit.

Jokic snatched all 11 votes from the media panel selecting the winner of the Bill Russell Trophy.

Not a bad consolation prize for a back-to-back Kia MVP that finished as runner-up to Joel Embiid for the award in his 2022-23 bid for a three-peat. Jokic ranks as the lowest draft pick (41st) ever to win Finals MVP, and he’s the first player selected outside of the top 15 to win both Finals MVP and regular-season MVP.

Jokic is also the first center to win Finals MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002, after churning out the most triple-doubles in one postseason run (10).

“I’ve said this many times before, but Nikola, even tonight, he’s kind of acting like this was just another game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s never changed with all the success, and he never will. It’s just not in his nature. I love Nikola. Just for all of us to stay the course, to challenge ourselves, to all get better collectively, individually. It’s great to be a part of such a historically great player who’s an even better person. This is not coach-talk. Nikola is just a great, great man.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver presents Nikola Jokic with the Bill Russell Finals MVP award.

Officials whistled Jokic for two fouls in the opening quarter and the center headed to the bench with 2:51 remaining as Miami quickly outscored the Nuggets 15-9 during his time off the floor. Even though the center scored a team-high tying nine points on 4-of-6 shooting over the first two quarters, he committed a team-high tying three turnovers. Overall, Miami spun Denver’s 10 first-half giveaways into eight points and a 51-44 halftime lead.

The 10 turnovers marked the most Denver had committed in a first half since Feb. 9, and it shot 1-for-15 from 3-point range over the first two quarters, good for the worst shooting half in Finals history for a team taking a minimum of 10 3-pointers. By halftime, Jokic and Jamal Murray carried two fouls apiece, while Aaron Gordon sat on three fouls. Denver’s 10 first-half fouls tied for the most it had committed in a half in these playoffs.

That didn’t stop Jokic from dialing up the physicality in bullying his way into the paint for a turnaround jumper to set the tone on the Nuggets’ first possession to start the second half.

But even after three quarters, the home team trailed 71-70 as Jokic started to pick up enough steam to steal the show when Denver most needed him to. During one third-quarter timeout, an animated Jokic could be seen on the bench lighting into teammates.

That tongue-lashing stemmed from Denver squandering an easy scoring opportunity by firing up a 3-pointer during a 4-on-3 situation when “we could just get an easy layup or score the ball,” Jokic said.

Surely, the eight-year veteran harbored some frustration regarding blown chances at the free-throw line, too. Through the first three quarters, Denver was 9-for-17 on free throws and Jokic himself was 3-for-5 during that span.

“Nikola, he led us all playoffs with his passing some games, scoring other games,” said Denver forward Michael Porter Jr., who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5, a big improvement after scoring 32 total points (on 29.3% shooting and 3-for-22 on 3-pointers) in the first four games of the Finals.

“This was a historic run. I don’t know how you can say he’s not the best big man ever really. He’s one of the all-time best basketball players. I don’t care what anyone says. To be on this team, he makes it easy for the rest of us.”

As MVP chants roared through the arena, Jokic held his daughter, Ognjena, and soaked in the scene.

Then, in the postgame locker room, champagne drenched everything in sight as the warm smell of cigars wafted through a foggy space lined from floor to ceiling with plastic to catch spills.

Standing in a back corner with hands on both hips as a crowd surrounded him, Jokic was still breathing somewhat heavily from a long night’s work.

“I came here when I was 20,” Jokic said. “If you want to be a success, you need a couple years. You need to be bad. Then you need to be good. Then, when you’re good you need to fail, and then when you fail, you’re going to figure it out. I think experience is something that is not what happened to you, it’s what you’re going to do with what happened to you. There [are] steps you need to fill and there is no shortcuts. It’s a journey, and I’m glad that I’m a part of the journey.”

Did Nikola Jokic deliver the greatest postseason run by a center?

Jokic’s resume

Jokic’s 2023 postseason accolades: 

  • First Serbian player to win Finals MVP
  • Led franchise to first-ever Finals appearance
  • Western Conference Finals MVP
  • Most triple-doubles in a single postseason (10)

Career Accolades:

  • 2x Kia MVP (2021, 2022)
  • 5x NBA All-Star
  • 5x All NBA Selection (First Team: 2018-19, ‘20-21, ’21-22 | Second Team: 2019-20, ’22-23)
  • All-Rookie First Team (2015-16)
  • Ranks sixth all-time in regular-season triple doubles (105)
  • Denver’s all-time leader in triple-doubles

Game-by-game: Jokic in 2023 NBA Finals

Relive some of Nikola Jokic's triple-doubles from the 2023 playoffs.

Game 1: Nuggets 104, Heat 93

  • Points: 27
  • Rebounds: 10
  • Assists: 10
  • Minutes: 41

Game 2: Heat 111, Nuggets 108

  • Points: 41
  • Rebounds: 11
  • Assists: 4
  • Minutes: 42

Game 3: Nuggets 109, Heat 94

  • Points: 32
  • Rebounds: 21
  • Assists: 10
  • Minutes: 44

Game 4: Nuggets 108, Heat 95

  • Points: 23
  • Rebounds: 12
  • Assists: 4
  • Minutes: 37

Game 5: Nuggets 94, Heat 89

  • Points: 28
  • Rebounds: 16
  • Assists: 4
  • Minutes: 42

* * *

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.