The Denver Nuggets are three wins away from capturing their first NBA championship.
Denver took down the Miami HEAT, 104-93, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Denver is now 13-3 in the NBA playoffs and remains undefeated at home, a perfect 9-0 in Ball Arena. They've also yet to lose a Game 1 in the 2023 postseason and have held a 20-point lead in all four contests.
"There are a lot of things that I liked," said Michael Malone. "To hold that team to 93 points, only 40 from the field, 33 from the three-point line, which is below their 39 percent in the playoffs, and probably the most impressive defensive stat was only two free throw attempts."
Nikola Jokić finished with 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds in his NBA Finals debut. This was his ninth triple-double of the postseason.
"One thing about Nikola is that he takes great satisfaction in making plays for others. He really does," said Michael Malone. "I think he takes more joy in that. I don't think he cares if he scored 27 points or not, he cares that we're up 1-0."
Jamal Murray recorded his first double-double of the postseason with 26 points and 10 assists. He and Jokić became the first duo since 1987 to each finish with at least 25 points and 10 assists. They assisted or scored on 90 of Denver's 104 total points.
Michael Porter Jr. also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. He was excellent defensively, as well, and finished with 2 blocks.
"He's done amazing. Just playing an all-around game," said Murray about Porter Jr. "12 boards, 14 points with one or two threes, (playing) into the rim, playing great defense, pursuing the ball. He's 6'10"; he's doing more than just knocking down shots, and that's dangerous when he's doing that."
Aaron Gordon made an impact on both ends. He backed down Miami's smaller defenders en route to 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Gordon was also tremendous defensively, particularly against Miami's stars.
"The best thing that he did is accepting his role. He's really doing a great job of that. And like today, he had it going early, we just keep getting him the ball. And he was really, really good in the paint," said Jokić about Gordon. "Just to play defense the whole game on the best player, I think that's really hard to do."
Speaking of that, Jimmy Butler, the hero of Miami's playoff run, did not have a good showing and finished with just 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting. He was Gordon's primary matchup.
Bam Adebayo, on the other hand, played well for Miami and put up 26 points on 13-of-25 shooting along with 13 rebounds.
Neither team had a good outing from behind the arc, though the HEAT outshot the Nuggets 33.3 percent to just 29.6 percent. They also took 12 more three-pointers than Denver. Where the Nuggets made up the difference was from 2-point range, shooting 61.5 percent to Miami's 45.6 percent.
The Nuggets outrebounded the HEAT (just barely), 45-42, making Denver 11-1 in the postseason when they outrebound their opponent. Both teams did an excellent job of keeping each other out of transition; Miami held Denver's second-best fastbreak offense to just 4 points on the break, while Denver kept Miami at just 9 fastbreak points.
The Nuggets used their size to their advantage early and put up an early 14-9 lead by scoring 10 points in the paint. 8 of those points came from Gordon, who backed down smaller defenders for buckets at the rim. Denver kept pummeling Miami inside the painted area and finished with 20 points inside the paint. The Nuggets entered the second quarter ahead, 29-20.
With Jokić off the floor, Miami started running its patented zone defense. Denver responded by getting a pair of three-pointers from Murray and Porter Jr., and Porter Jr. also crashed the glass for a ferocious putback dunk. When Jokić checked back in, he and Murray started getting to their two-man game for 6 combined points to give the Nuggets a 50-37 lead. Denver was able to increase that lead to 17 points and entered halftime ahead, 59-42.
Miami opened the second half on a 7-0 run to cut Denver’s lead down to 10 points. The Nuggets punched back with 6-straight points from Murray, both of which came on and-1s inside the paint. It became a 19-point game when Denver knocked in a trio of three-pointers. Denver made it a 20-point game after Bruce Brown made a floater over the top of Miami’s interior defense. Denver held a 84-63 lead heading into the final period of Game 1.
Miami opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to cut Denver’s lead down to 13 points. Though Miami’s zone defense initially gave Denver some trouble, the Nuggets problem-solved and built the lead back to 13 points. The HEAT were able to make it a 9-point game with just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining, but then Jokić splashed home two floaters and made two sublime passes for 4 points. That gave Denver the luxury to cruise across the finish line with a double-digit lead to capture the first NBA Finals victory in franchise history.