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Monday night in the 2023 NBA Playoffs saw a defensive slugfest in Game 5 as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Miami Heat, 94-89, to win their first NBA championship in franchise history. The 47 seasons it took to win one title is the longest in NBA history, but the Nuggets are champions, and Nikola Jokic is top of the world after being named Finals MVP.
Miami Leads at Halftime
Every game in this series had a low-scoring first quarter, so Game 5 was no exception with Miami leading 24-22. But the difference this time was the Heat carried that over into the second quarter, leading by 10 points, and taking a 51-44 lead into the locker room at halftime after an intense half of basketball with plenty of turnovers, missed shots, and fouls.
Some early foul trouble hurt Denver as Aaron Gordon picked up 3 fouls and Jokic had 2 and had to sit early. The Nuggets were also an abysmal 1-for-15 from 3 in the first half, bricking everything in sight with their first chance in team history to win a championship with one victory.
But the Heat also were not doing well from 3, making 4-of-15 in the first half. Jimmy Butler also did not look like himself, scoring 8 points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first two quarters. Bam Adebayo looked great early with 18 points, but in the second half, he was 1-for-7 for 2 points.
The Heat thought Tyler Herro might return to action, but he never got into the game. Miami had to make do with the group that got them this far, but Denver was turning the tide on defense.
Denver Survives Second Half to Win Championship
In the second half, the Heat shot 29.8% from the field as the offense just could not overcome its issues from the last few weeks of action. Miami failed to score more than 103 points in 8-of-9 games to end this postseason run after finishing the regular season ranked dead last in points per game.
Denver was the most efficient and productive offense all postseason, but the Nuggets had to win this one on defense. Denver would shoot 45% from the field in the second half and finally got a few 3s by going 4-for-13 (30.8%) from deep after halftime. But this game was largely won by the defense and Miami’s ice-cold shooting.
Both teams looked a bit tight and nervous throughout the night, frantically attempting long passes that led to some exciting steals and intense play on defense. The Heat only led 71-70 going into the fourth quarter, but you knew it was going to be a slugfest finish for a change in this series.
The teams kept exchanging blows and baskets as 37-year-old Kyle Lowry was a rare bright spot for Miami, making 4 3s on the night. The Nuggets seemed to be pulling away at 83-76 with just under 5:00 left, but Butler finally stopped passing the ball to Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent and took matters into his own hands after a 2-for-13 shooting start.
Butler made back-to-back 3-point shots, then was fouled on a controversial call that was reviewed and upheld when he kicked his leg out. Butler made all 3 free throws and Miami was only down a point.
Butler ended up scoring Miami’s final 13 points, but it was not enough. After a Butler free throw put Miami ahead for the last time, the Nuggets got a huge offensive rebound and putback from Bruce Brown that proved to be the game-winning shot.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came up with a huge steal off Butler with 27 seconds left, then made his free throws to extend the lead to 92-89. Butler rushed a 3 he really did not need to take, and the Nuggets put the game away with more free throws as Miami missed another 3.
Jokic is the lowest-drafted player to ever win Finals MVP, and he deserved it with an excellent series. The Nuggets were the No. 1 seed in the regular season, the best team in the postseason, and they finish with a 16-4 record.
Denver has already opened with the best odds to win next year’s championship too. But first the team will celebrate this great achievement.
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