Rob Issa, FISM News
The Denver Nuggets shook off the rust and dusted off the Miami Heat in the opener of the NBA Finals.
Playing their first game in 10 days, the Nuggets led nearly from start to finish in a 104-93 victory over the Heat on Thursday night in the first championship appearance in Denver’s 47-year franchise history.
Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists and Jamal Murray had 26 points and 10 assists for Denver.
Bam Adebayo led Miami with 26 points and 13 boards while Jimmy Butler scored just 13 points.
“The most important thing is to win a game,” Jokic said. “I’m trying to win a game in any possible way.”
Jokic has nine triple-doubles in this year’s playoffs. He became the eighth player to do it in Game 1 of the finals.
The Nuggets also got significant contributions from Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. Gordon had 16 points and Porter scored 14 with 13 rebounds.
“I think that’s what the beauty of this team is,” Murray said. “We have so many different weapons and so many different looks. You’ve got to guard everybody. … Free-flowing, and it’s a lot of fun.”
The No. 8 seed Heat had been 3-0 in series openers this year. They needed seven games to beat Boston after taking a 3-0 series lead and advanced on Monday while the Nuggets had a long layoff after sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
“One way or the other, we have to find a way to get the job done,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Miami took just two foul shots, making both. That tied the fewest free throws ever made in a playoff game and broke the record for the fewest attempts from the line in a playoff. The Los Angeles Lakers held the previous low marks in a finals game, going 3 for 5 from the line against Philadelphia on May 26, 1983.
“When you look at it during the game, they all look like the right shots and I’m not saying that we can’t as a team make those, but we’ve got to get more layups,” Butler said after his team settled for too many jumpers instead of attacking the basket and drawing fouls. “That’s it as a whole. We’ve got to attack the rim a lot more, myself included.”
Gordon’s defense was a major reason why Butler couldn’t get going on offense. Gordon has been a shutdown defender throughout the playoffs, guarding the opposing team’s stars from Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James to now Butler.
“Aaron really kind of set the tone on both ends of the floor for us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
We always talk about Nikola embodying Nuggets culture, and I think Aaron Gordon is a prime example of somebody who’s truly selfless. He understood with Jamal and Michael coming back this year being healthy that his role was going to change. He never once fought it. He’s embraced it from Day 1 of the season. He does a lot of the dirty work for us, and a lot of times he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.
Game 2 of the series is Sunday night in Denver.