NBA Finals

Denver Nuggets defeat Miami Heat to win first NBA championship

The Nuggets won Game 5 at home 94-89 to win the series 4-1

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The Denver Nuggets, after 47 long years in the NBA, have finally reached the top of the mountain.

The Nuggets captured their first championship in franchise history after defeating the Miami Heat 94-89 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday at Ball Arena in Denver.

Nikola Jokic put the finishing touches on a historic postseason performance with 28 points, 16 rebounds and four assists. Jokic, the 41st pick in the 2014 draft, averaged 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 7.2 assists in the series and became the lowest drafted player to ever win NBA Finals MVP.

"The job is done," Jokic told ESPN after the win. "We can go home now."

Neither team was in championship form to start the game, with the Heat struggling from the field and the Nuggets failing to protect the ball. The Heat, after making two of their first four shots, missed their next 10 as the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run. Adebayo then powered a 14-2 Heat run, converting consecutive three-point plays to give Miami a 22-18 lead. Adebayo finished the quarter with 14 points and six rebounds, including a late putback that sent the Heat into the second with a 24-22 advantage. 

Butler, after going 0-for-3 in first as Heat shot 35.7 percent, scored the first six points of the second for Miami. The Heat’s lead reached double figures when Duncan Robinson hit a three and then converted a driving layup off a feed from Adebayo to make it 39-29 with 7:17 left in the half.

After a pair of threes by Kyle Lowry thwarted a Denver run, Butler intercepted a Jokic cross-couirt pass and went coast-to-coast for the dunk to push the lead back to eight at 47-39. 

Adebayo continued to attack Jokic in the paint, converting a floater off a hesitation dribble in the closing minutes to help give Miami a 51-44 lead at the half.

Adebayo had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Heat built their first-half lead despite shooting just 38.8 percent overall and 4 of 15 from deep. The Nuggets shot 45.5 percent overall in the half but went just 1-for-15 from three, with Jokic converitng the lone make, and had 10 turnovers.    

A corner three by Jamal Murray, just the Nuggets’ second three on 18 attempts, evened the score at 60-60 with 6:44 left in the third. 

Michael Porter Jr.,after using a reverse between-the-legs dribble in transition for a game-tying layup, hit a three to put the Nuggets up 69-66, their first lead since it was 18-16 in the first.

A three by Lowry with 33 seconds left in the third put Miami ahead 71-70 heading into the final quarter.

The Nuggets opened the fourth on a 7-2 run to take a 77-73 advantage before Lowry hit another three to pull Miami within one. After a bucket by Jokic, Aaron Gordon blocked a Lowry jumper, leading to a pull-up by Murray to put the Nuggets up 81-76 with 6:42 left.

With the Heat down seven, Butler hit a three and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope responded with a three of his own. Butler followed with another three to cut the deficit to four, and on the next possession was fouled on an attempt from deep. The call was upheld after review and Butler hit all three free throws to make it 86-85 with 3:21 left. 

Butler then hit a pull-up to cap an 8-0 run and put the Heat in front at 87-86. Jokic answered with a layup to give the Nuggets a one-point advantage. Butler, after a Miami offensive rebound, was fouled on the drive and hit both free throws, scoring 13 straight Miami points for an 89-88 Heat lead. 

Bruce Brown then put the Nuggets in front for good with a putback off a Murray missed jumper that made it 90-89 with 1:31 to go. 

Max Strus missed a three on the ensuing possession and, after Jokic missed a layp, Butler’s pass was intercepted by Caldwell-Pope, who then hit two free throws for a 92-89 lead with 24.1 seconds left. 

Following a Miami timeout, Butler’s contested turnaround three was off the mark. Brown grabbed the rebound and hit both free throws with 14.1 seconds left to seal it. 

The Nuggets’ climb to the top of the league took decades, from Alex English to Dikembe Mutombo to Carmelo Anthony and so on. 

The team entered the NBA in 1976 after nine seasons in the ABA, during the last of which they were denied their first championship after losing in the finals to Julius Erving and the New York Nets before the merger. 

Prior to this season, the Nuggets’ greatest postseason accomplishment since joining the NBA was becoming the first No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 seed when they stunned the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs -- fitting considering the top-seeded Nuggets were playing the eighth-seeded Heat in the Finals.

Denver entered the playoffs having lost all four of their appearances in the Western Conference Finals, last falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA bubble in 2020. That streak officially came to an end this season. 

The Nuggets, after finishing with the best record in the West at 53-29, defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games during the first round and then beat the Phoenix Suns over six games in the second round. They then swept LeBron James and the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.

There they overpowered the Heat, who like those before them, had no answer for the unicorn that is Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets drafted Jokic with a second-round pick in the 2014 draft and he went on to become a back-to-back MVP in 2021 and 2022.

While leading the Nuggets to the title, he set a single-season playoff record with 10 triple-doubles, topping Wilt Chamberlain's previous record of seven, en route to becoming the first player in NBA history to be the postseason leader in points, rebounds and assists.

Jamal Murray, two years after suffering a torn ACL, had a historic postseason of his own, drawing statistical comps to Magic Johnson. The 26-year-old point guard became the first player to have at least 10 assists in his first four Finals games and joined Johnson as just the second player to have at least 10 assists in four consecutive Finals games. Murray had 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in the championship-clinching victory.

With the core of the team all in their twenties and under contract through 2025 - and with general manager Calvin Booth showing no front office complacency by making trades for draft picks on the morning of Game 4 - the team is in position to defend their title.

And enjoy the view from the top of the mountain.  

"We're not satisfied," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters after the game. "We accomplished something this franchise has never done before. But we have a lot of young, talented players in that locker room and I think we just showed through 16 playoff wins what we're capable of on the biggest stage in the world."

Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic went from a small town in Serbia to NBA stardom. Hear are five things to know about the Denver Nuggets big man.
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