Nikola Jokic powers Nuggets to first title in team history

June 13, 2023 - 12:11 PM
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Jun 12, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) celebrates after winning the 2023 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at Ball Arena. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Nikola Jokic scored 28 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets finished off their domination of the NBA Finals with a 94-89 Game 5 victory over the visiting Miami Heat on Monday for the first championship in franchise history.

After not winning the NBA MVP award for the first time in three seasons, Jokic instead helped Denver earn the ultimate team prize while landing the Finals MVP honor. The Nuggets never lost more than twice in any playoff series and finished with 10 victories in their last 11 postseason games.

The 28-year-old Serbia native averaged 30.2 points, 14 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game in the Finals.

Michael Porter Jr. put up 16 points and 13 rebounds, Jamal Murray had 14 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 11 as the top seed from the Western Conference finished off the eighth seed from the Eastern Conference in the best-of-seven series.

Denver advanced to the ABA Finals in 1976, joined the NBA the following season then lost in the Western Conference finals four times before making the title series this season.

Jimmy Butler rallied late to score 21 points for Miami, while Bam Adebayo contributed 20 points and 12 rebounds and Max Strus and Kyle Lowry each had 12 points. The Heat knocked off the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the second-seeded Boston Celtics on their way to representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals.

The Heat became just the second eighth seed to reach an NBA Finals, joining the 1999 New York Knicks, who lost the title series to the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps struggling with the magnitude of the moment, the Nuggets shot just 1 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half and 3 of 8 from the free-throw line. However, they trailed just 51-44 at halftime before leading by as many as three points in the third quarter. Denver entered the fourth quarter trailing 71-70.

A jump hook by Jokic early in the final period gave the Nuggets a 72-71 lead with 11:39 to play before both teams ramped up their defensive intensity. After neither side scored for a 2:35 stretch, Jamal Murray’s 14-foot pullup jumper gave Denver an 81-76 advantage with 6:43 left.

A Jokic runner put the Nuggets up 83-76 with 4:43 remaining as the Heat opened the fourth quarter 2 of 16 from the field. Butler came to life in the final period, scoring the team’s last 13 points, including three free throws that were awarded even though he kicked out his right leg and caught an opponent on a 3-point attempt. However, Miami did not score over the final 1:57.

A Bruce Brown rebound and putback basket put the Nuggets up 90-89 with 1:31 remaining, and a steal followed by two free throws from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 24.7 seconds left gave Denver a 92-89 lead.

Butler missed a 3-point attempt with 17.1 seconds remaining, and Brown sealed the title with two free throws for a 94-89 advantage with 14.3 seconds left.—Field Level Media