Nuggets vs. Heat score, takeaways: Denver's size, regression of Miami's shooting factors in NBA Finals opener
Denver's Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray start hot in franchise's first NBA Finals game
The Denver Nuggets showed no signs of rust as they cruised to a 104-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals on Thursday night. This was the first NBA Finals game in franchise history, and they put on a real show for their fans with an efficient offensive display.
Early on, the Nuggets exploited their size advantage and bullied the Heat in the paint for easy bucket after easy bucket. That approach helped them get out to an early lead, which they never surrendered. They led by as much as 24 in the third quarter, and though the Heat made a late charge to make the final score respectable, the Nuggets led by double digits for the vast majority of the game.
Nikola Jokic recorded a triple-double in his first Finals game with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists on 8 of 12 from the field, Jamal Murray poured in 26 points of his own to go along with six rebounds and 10 assists and Aaron Gordon chipped in 16 points. As a team, the Nuggets shot 51.3% from the field despite struggling from 3-point land.
Speaking of rough shooting from the outside, the Heat could not buy a bucket until the final quarter, and finished 13 of 39 from downtown. Overall, they shot 40.6%. Bam Adebayo led the way in defeat with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, but Jimmy Butler finished with just 13 points on 14 shots.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Jokic makes history with triple-double
Nikola Jokic just missed out on averaging a triple-double in the regular season by a few assists, and is a threat to get one every time he steps on the floor. He did so in Game 1, and in the process joined Jason Kidd as the only players in NBA history to record a triple-double in their Finals debut.
Jokic was brilliant all night long, as he orchestrated the Nuggets' offense with whatever they needed at a given time. Early on that was playmaking, as he dished out assist after assist to start the game, and nearly went the entire first quarter without taking a shot. After the halftime break, he became more of a scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good.
All told, he finished with 27 points on 8 of 12 from the field, 10 rebounds, 14 assists -- most ever by a center in a Finals game -- and just two turnovers. It was about as perfect of an offensive performance as you can deliver, and given the Heat's personnel he might just play like this all series long.
Murray stays hot
While the Nuggets were favored to win the Western Conference finals, they were not expected to sweep the Los Angeles Lakers. They did so in large part because Jamal Murray took his game to exceptional heights; he put up 32.5 points per game on over 50% shooting in the four games, to go with solid playmaking.
After such a long layoff between series, there were some questions about whether the Nuggets would look rusty in Game 1. They quickly shut that idea down with an efficient offensive display led by Nikola Jokic and Murray, who picked up right where he left off.
Murray made the first basket of the game on a layup, and never looked back. He went for 26 points, six rebounds and 10 assists on 11 of 22 from the field, and provided all the requisite scoring and playmaking to support Jokic. When Murray is playing at this level, the Nuggets are nearly impossible to beat. Figuring out a way to slow him down may be the Heat's best chance of gaining a foot hold in this series.
Heat's role players, 3-point shooting come back to Earth
The Heat's Cinderella run to the Finals would not have been possible without some unexpected play from their supporting cast and incredible 3-point shooting. For example, Caleb Martin nearly won Eastern Conference finals MVP, and the team as a whole shot 43.4% from downtown against the Boston Celtics.
One of the major questions coming into the Finals was whether either of those factors would continue. The answer after Game 1 is no. The Heat's outside shooting was brutal until the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand, and even then they finished 13 of 39 (33.3%).
Meanwhile, Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson combined for six points on 2 of 23 from the field. Even a strong effort from Gabe Vincent and an impressive Haywood Highsmith cameo were not enough to make up for that total lack of production from three key members of the supporting cast.
In truth, it's not surprising that there was some regression from the conference finals, but no one could have predicted it to be that bad for Martin, Strus and Robinson. It goes without saying, but if the Heat want a chance of winning this series, they'll need that trio to pick their play back up.
Nuggets respond, regain control
Things got interesting for a few minutes there as the Heat briefly had the deficit down to 10 points, but the Nuggets have responded and regained control. They're now up by 16 with 7:16 to play, and it's hard to see a path back for the Heat at this point, especially with how easy it is for Nikola Jokic to create good shots
Heat quickly cut deficit to 13
The Heat have been the comeback kings all postseason, and they've opened the fourth quarter with a quick 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 13. They still have a long road back, and this would be their greatest recovery act yet, but with 10 minutes to play they suddenly have some life again
Third quarter: Nuggets 84 -- Heat 63
The Heat made a little run at the start of the third and hung within striking distance for a few minutes, but the Nuggets really opened things up late in the third. They led by as much as 24 and take a 21-point advantage into the fourth, which looks insurmountable. The Nuggets are just getting whatever they want on offense, while the Heat still can't buy a shot.
Nuggets rolling offensively
The Nuggets have been the best offensive team in the playoffs by a sizeable margin, and are showing why tonight. With Jokic running the show and strong shooters around him, they can attack inside or outside and get open looks so easily. Over time, those add up. With three minutes left in the third, they already have 79 points and are shooting 54.4 percent from the field
Adebayo keeping the Heat from total blowout
The Heat trail by 16 in the middle of the third quarter, and given their struggles shooting the ball from outside it could be even worse. Bam Adebayo, however, has kept the Heat from getting totally run out of the gym so far. He's got 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists on 11-21 shooting; the rest of the team has 33 points on 13-42.