The Denver Nuggets passed their first NBA Finals test, by winning the opening game against the Miami Heat 104-93 with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way.
Despite having just five shots through the first three quarters, Jokic continued his unstoppable triple-double run this postseason. He joined Jason Kidd as the only player to make their NBA Finals debut with a triple-double, finishing with 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.
Jokic gave the highest number of assists by a player in his first Finals game, and he collected his seventh triple-double in his past nine playoff games while continuing to average a triple-double this postseason.
“That’s the beauty of Nikola,” said head coach Michael Malone who gave the team an early quiz hours before the start of the game, to ensure they were steaming ready after a nine-day break.
“I learned a long time ago, the defense tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it. If they’re going to give him that kind of attention, he had 10 assists at halftime. Well, he’s going to just pick you apart,” he added.
The Nuggets, who have been undefeated at home this postseason, feel that they can beat any defense in a multitude of ways. Take away Jokic’s offense and he will locate his teammates for open shots. Try to double-mark Murray and he will turn the game around with his passing.
Murray, who also made his Finals debut, had 26 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds in 44 minutes. He also did most of his scoring (18 points) in the first half.
Aaron Gordon capitalized on the smaller-sized Heat defenders and made six of his first eight shots and scored 12 points in the first quarter. He has sacrificed much of his offense since he joined the Denver in a trade during the 2020-21 season from Orlando.
Denver led 84-60 toward the end of the third quarter. When Miami cut it to 10 with 4:16 remaining, Jokic scored on an eight-foot floater and an eight-foot turnaround fadeaway shot.
And when the Miami Heat made another run to get within nine with 2:34 remaining, Jokic found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a 15-foot jumper. Jokic would then seal the Heat’s first Game 1 loss this postseason by scoring four more points.
The Denver Nuggets star players – Murray and Jokic are the third pair of teammates to each have 20 points and 10 assists in a Finals game, joining the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
“We just want to win a championship,” Murray said. “I think it’s just fluent, beautiful basketball. The ball is hopping, and we’re just playing off each other. You can have a great game with only five shots until the fourth.
“Just making reads on the basketball court. I think that’s the beauty of what this team is. We have so many different weapons and so many different looks. You’ve got to guard everybody. Jokic dominated until the fourth quarter, and it didn’t even feel like it. Yeah, it’s free-flowing, and it’s a lot of fun.”