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Thursday night in the 2023 NBA Playoffs kicked off the NBA Finals, but the Miami Heat were little match for the Denver Nuggets in Game 1.Denver won 104-93 in a game with only two lead changes. Nikola Jokic joined Jason Kidd as the only two players in NBA history to record a triple-double in their NBA Finals debut.
Denver’s Great Start
Any question of the Nuggets being rested or rusty was answered quickly with the first quarter won by Denver by a 29-20 margin. Jokic had 6 assists in the first quarter and 10 by halftime as he set his teammates up beautifully while rarely attacking himself for shots.
Aaron Gordon was hot early with 12 points as the Nuggets did everything well but shoot the 3. The Heat never really found their footing and Jimmy Butler scored 6 points in the final three quarters. Caleb Martin was the star of the Eastern Conference Finals for Miami, but he did not score a basket until late in the third quarter and finished with 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting.
No one had a rougher night than Max Strus, who was 0-for-10 from the field, scored 0 points, and missed all 9 of his 3-point attempts.
The Heat finished with 2 free throw attempts, the fewest in a game in NBA playoff history. The Nuggets were called for just 8 fouls, but it was not even a controversial game from an officiating standpoint. Denver’s ball movement and shooting were just too superior to what the Heat brought in Game 1.
The Ounce of Hope in the Fourth Quarter
Miami was down by 21 points to start the fourth quarter, but this team does know how to fight back. A quick 11-0 run by Miami made things interesting again at 84-74, but Denver quickly answered with another run to push it back to 16.
Jokic was not shooting early, but he flourished late with 12 fourth-quarter points. Even when the Heat made it back to single digits with a 96-87 deficit with 2:34 left, the Nuggets immediately answered with Jokic setting up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his 14th assist of the night.
Jokic soon grabbed his 10th rebound, giving him the triple-double with 27 points. Jamal Murray also had a very strong first game in the NBA Finals with 26 points and 10 assists. The Nuggets were only 8-of-27 from 3-point territory, but they were so strong in the paint and the size advantage did help there.
Miami shot 40.6% from the field and 33.3% from 3. The lack of free throws will have to be addressed as the Heat will need to find better ways to attack the basket and get easier shots. The one bright side was that Bam Adebayo had a very aggressive game, though he still needed to take 25 shots to score 26 points. But he did have 13 rebounds and 5 assists on a night where the Heat were just outclassed by the better team.
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