Matt Brooks
Writer & Digital Content Specialist

The Denver Nuggets can take a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals and remain undefeated in the postseason on their home Ball Arena floor.

They're coming off the franchise's first NBA Finals victory, a 104-93 Game 1 defeat against the Miami HEAT. As mentioned, Denver has been unstoppable at home by going a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs. Holistically speaking, it's been a dominant run for the Nuggets in the 2023 postseason with 13 wins and just 3 total losses.

Nikola Jokić finished with his ninth triple-double of the postseason after already breaking Wilt Chamberlain's record for most triple-doubles in a playoff run during the Western Conference Finals. Jokić put up 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds in Game 1.

Jamal Murray also had an excellent outing with 26 points and 10 assists, a high for him in these playoffs. He wasn't the only Nugget to finish with a double-double; Michael Porter Jr. recorded 13 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 2s have been odd for Denver this postseason.

Denver averaged just 102.5 points in its two most recent Game 2s against Phoenix and Los Angeles. For context, the Nuggets average 115.6 points in the 2023 postseason.

That said, they had an excellent showing against Minnesota in Game 2 of the first round by putting up 122 points on 50.6 percent shooting and 45.2 percent from three, so hopefully Denver can have that type of performance against Miami. After all, the Nuggets shot just 29.6 percent from three in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, just the second time they went below 30 percent from deep in a playoff game this year, so regression to the mean is certainly due.

Denver's lethal offense was the story of Game 1, but there were other takeaways to be had, as well.

But first, a look at the injury report.


Bam Adebayo — Available (Right Shoulder Discomfort)
Tyler Herro — Out (Right Hand Surgery)
Caleb Martin — Questionable (Illness)
Victor Oladipo — Out (Left Knee Surgery)
Gabe Vincent — Available (Left Ankle Soreness)
Cody Zeller — Questionable (Right Foot Sprain)

Aaron Gordon is a problem for Miami's defense

Denver entered the NBA Finals with the second-best transition offense according to fastbreak points per game. Miami was one of the five-stingiest fastbreak defenses of the playoffs. The push and pull of that statistical battleground was something we touched on in our NBA Finals series preview.

At first glance, Denver did not do a great job attacking Miami's transition defense in Game 1 and scored just 9 total fastbreak points. For reference, they've averaged 16.1 fastbreak points for the rest of the postseason.

But those numbers don't take into account how good Denver was at pushing the pace off rebounds and finding ugly cross-matches. Technically, both of these buckets are scored in the halfcourt and don't count as fastbreak points. But Aaron Gordon does his early work by streaking ahead of the pack, burrowing his way underneath the basket, and sealing off Miami's smaller defenders (Gabe Vincent and Max Strus).

When they're not running their patented zone defense, Miami likes to switch screening actions 1-through-4. Knowing this, Denver had Gordon screen for Murray to kickstart Game 1, and Miami switched Jimmy Butler onto Murray and Vincent onto Gordon.

Gordon attacked the Vincent matchup relentlessly and finished with 14 points at halftime.

Things got so bad that when Gordon found himself matched up with an advantageous assignment on the low block, Miami started showing help. That's right; Denver's fourth, maybe fifth option forced double-teams in Game 1.

Denver's starting unit of Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Porter Jr., Gordon, and Jokić is producing a ridiculous 123.6 offensive rating in the postseason, which leads all starters. Gordon is a massive component of that and dished the perfect pass to Porter Jr. in the corner for an open look.

Gordon even feasted against his primary matchups, Caleb Martin and Jimmy Butler, in Game 1. He bombarded his way to the rim on physical post-ups and drives against both players. The guy was unstoppable.

Gordon represents a larger trend for Denver against Miami; he, much like his teammates, might just be too big and too strong for the HEAT to tangle with. He should have no trouble getting to looks inside the painted area through sheer physicality.

Will Denver alter its usage of Nikola Jokić in the pick-and-roll?

Holistically speaking, Denver did an excellent job limiting Miami's offense. The HEAT finished with 93 points, the fewest points they've scored this entire playoff run.

They also took just 2 total free throws in Game 1, the fewest free throws in a Finals game in NBA history, in large part because the Nuggets did such a good job of limiting close-range shots. Miami finished with just 19 shots at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass.

Still, there are things for Denver to clean up.

For starters, the way Jokić was used as a pick-and-roll defender is assuredly something Michael Malone and staff will look at. For the most part, Denver kept Jokić closer to the rim in a "drop coverage" in Game 1. That strategy made sense against Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin, who went a combined 7-for-21 from the field on Thursday night.

Dropping against Kyle Lowry and Vincent didn't go as well. Lowry rained home a trio of three-pointers in the second half out of the pick-and-roll when Jokić was positioned below the three-point arc. Vincent nailed a three, as well, against the drop defense.

This isn't Nikola's fault nor a reflection of his defensive activity; it's by design. With drop coverage, the ball handler's defender chases over the top of the screen and pursues his man. The screener's defender (Jokić, in these clips) hangs out below the three-point line.

Lowry and Vincent are just too good of three-pointer shooters off the dribble for the strategy to be viable. Vincent has made 34.9 percent of his pull-up threes in the playoffs, while Lowry's canned 44.4 percent of his off-the-dribble long-range looks.

A possible adjustment we may see is Jokić playing up at the level of Adebayo's screens on pick-and-rolls that involve Lowry or Vincent handling the rock. Of course, that opens up the roll for Bam to the rim; but here, the Nuggets counter that by having Bruce Brown pinch in early to stop Bam's roll before recovering back to Vincent on the perimeter. This completely throws off Miami's timing, resulting in the turnover.

Having Jokić guard "up" above the three-point line on this Strus and Adebayo handoff action takes away the three-point look from Strus, one of Miami's long-range snipers. The HEAT then flow into a pick-and-roll on the opposite side of the floor between Martin and Adebayo, and Denver responds by having Jokić retreat back into drop coverage against Martin, who is more dangerous as a downhill scorer than a shooter off the dribble. Taking away the painted-area look from Martin pays off when the 27-year-old misses a long two-pointer.

As the series goes on, Denver will only get more and more comfortable defending Miami's handoffs and pick-and-rolls. Playing Jokić higher up the floor against Vincent, Lowry, Strus, and Duncan Robinson in screening actions seems like it's in Denver's best interests.

Michael Porter Jr.'s all-around game continues to improve

Michael Porter Jr. had one of his best all-around games of the postseason.

As mentioned, Porter Jr. finished with a 12-point and 14-rebound double-double, and he recorded 2 blocks. He didn't have his best shooting night and went just 2-of-11 from deep, but he found a way to make an impact in his rare off-night as a scorer. That's been Porter Jr.'s biggest area of growth throughout these playoffs; his influence is no longer confined to how many points he puts on the board.

Butler hunted him down on multiple switches, and Porter Jr. did one heck of a job making life tough on Miami's star player. In this first clip, MPJ went under Adebayo's screen to meet Jimmy on the other side and blocked him from behind.

Here, Porter Jr. goes over the top of the screen before turning on the afterburners to contest Butler's jump shot. MPJ's got a 7-foot wingspan that he's starting to weaponize with more frequency and get a hand up against star players. He did the same thing in the second round against Devin Booker and erased his airspace on pull-up jumpers.

Porter Jr.'s second block of the night came against Martin. Once again, MPJ went over the screen and used his impressive north-to-south zippiness to block Martin from behind. Miami's hero in the Eastern Conference Finals, Martin, went just 1-for-7 in Game 1. Plays like this impressive block from Porter Jr. really seemed to take away his confidence.

Maybe Porter Jr.'s best play of the night came in the fourth quarter. Denver got into semi-transition, and the ball eventually found Porter Jr. in the corner. But instead of hoisting the three-point look after a wild contest from Haywood Highsmith, Porter Jr. drove into the paint, pulled in the help from Adebayo away from Jokić, and then lept into the air for a fancy lay-down bounce pass to The Joker for a layup.

Porter Jr. showcased significant signs of improvement in the final month of the regular season. That does not appear to be stopping any time soon.

TUNE-IN TO Game 2: Sunday 6 p.m. MT, ABC and 92.5FM