As Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets prepared for their first appearance in the NBA Finals, they were faced with a number of questions, and they responded resoundingly.
They did not suffer any adverse effects from taking a week and a half off.
Even the largest platform in the NBA is manageable for the players.
In his first career appearance in the NBA Finals, Jokic recorded a triple-double, and Jamal Murray scored 26 points as the Denver Nuggets cruised to a 104-93 victory against the Miami Heat in the opening game of the series on Thursday night.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player finished with 27 points, 14 assists, and ten rebounds for the Nuggets, who made it to the finals after waiting 47 years and didn’t let anyone down.
“The most important thing is to win a game,” Jokic said after recording his ninth triple-double of these playoffs, his sixth in his past seven games. “The most important thing is to win a game.” “I’m going to try to win this game by any means necessary.”
Denver was behind for the first 34 seconds of the game but eventually went on to take the lead by as many as 24 points thanks to contributions from Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr.
Bam Adebayo finished the game for Miami with 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the Hurricanes shot 41% from the field overall and 33% from beyond the arc. For the Heat, Gabe Vincent had 19 points, Haywood Highsmith added 18, and Jimmy Butler contributed 13 points.
The second game will be played in Denver on Sunday evening.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Miami went on a run that scored 11 points, bringing their score from being down 84-63 to being down 84-74. A three-pointer made by Highsmith with 2:34 remaining brought the Heat as near as nine points, but they couldn’t get any closer, and the game was never in doubt.
During the shootaround session on Thursday morning, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone gave his team a pop quiz on the game plan and what needed to be done in the most important game to date in the franchise’s history. Then, Malone peppered his players with questions about what had to be done in the game because it was the most important game to date.
They were utterly knowledgeable at the time. They also possessed all of them during the game. They were the team with the least amount of experience in the NBA Finals, with only two players having competed in the championship round previously; nonetheless, they still managed to look comfortable in front of the home fans in Game 1.
Jokic is only the second player in the last 25 years — LeBron James was the other, in 2017 — to have ten assists by halftime of a finals game. Jokic did this in the game between the Denver Nuggets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the halftime break, he had tallied 10 points and ten assists, and Denver was leading 59-42 after the first two quarters of play.
That was not beneficial for Miami in any way. Neither was the fact that Jokic had only taken three shots when the Nuggets were in complete command of the game.
“I don’t need to shoot, and I know that I don’t need to score to affect the game,” Jokic added.
And here’s where things got much worse for Miami: the Heat were unable to make any shots. At all. Or, at the very least, only when Denver had an insurmountable lead. Through the first three quarters, Max Strus had a shooting percentage of 0 for ten overall and 0 for nine from beyond the arc. Caleb Martin, who came very close to winning the Most Valuable Player award for the Eastern Conference finals, went 1 for 7 with a home run.
The loss in Game 1 of the NBA Finals for the Heat brought their overall record to 1-6. The Heat were unable to win the first game of the series in any of their championship years (2006, 2012, or 2013), with the exception of 2011. This was a series that they went on to lose to Dallas. The 25 shots that Adebayo took were a career-best for him. He became the third player in Miami’s history to score at least 24 points in the first game of a championship series. Dwyane Wade won it for the Heat in 2006, and LeBron James won it thrice.
Jokic of the Nuggets became the eighth player in NBA Finals history to get a triple-double in Game 1 of the series. Twenty-seven points accompanied none of the others, but Dave Cowens opened the 1976 championship series with a triple-double that included 25 points. Ten points were scored by Bruce Brown, who went to Miami University for his collegiate basketball. Denver was at the foul line twenty times, whereas only two times for Miami.