In a nail-biting Game 5, the underdog Denver Nuggets climbed the NBA mountain range to claim the coveted NBA Title, becoming the league’s first champions and cementing Nikola Jokic’s status as an all-time great.
Despite dealing with foul problems and a resilient Miami Heat squad, Jokic led his side to a 94-89 triumph in front of 19,537 loud spectators at Ball Arena. After a spectacular postseason run for the 7-foot Serbian and his Denver Nuggets club, Jokic was voted the Finals MVP and got all votes.
Nikola Jokic, a two-time regular season MVP and a champion, joins an elite group of basketball players that includes only Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Nuggets up by seven and the Heat going scoreless for five minutes, Jimmy Butler scored 13 straight points to bring the eighth-seeded undead back from the dead and give them an 89-88 lead with two minutes remaining. With 27.4 seconds remaining, Denver had an opportunity to end Miami for good after Bruce Brown’s put-back gave the Nuggets the lead again. The game was decided by four consecutive free throws scored by the Nuggets, who were 9 for 19 from the charity stripe.
When Butler made his first of two 3-pointers with 4:29 left, he was mired in the midst of a terrible 2-for-13 night. Minutes later, Butler attempted a 3-pointer, but his right foot kicked into Aaron Gordon’s groin; the officials ruled that Gordon committed a foul, and Butler made all three free throws to cut the lead to 86-85. A Jokic layup was sandwiched by four more points from Butler, giving Denver an 89-88 lead.
The Heat looked like they were going to ruin Denver’s party, but with 91 seconds left in the series, Brown dove through a swarm of three Heat defenders to corral Jamal Murray’s wayward 18-footer and score the game-winning basket.
The Heat were 3-for-16 from the field in the first quarter despite forcing four turnovers. Coach Michael Malone of the Nuggets called a timeout in an effort to calm his team’s jitters as they played in front of their rabid home fans, and his players delivered (again). Michael Porter Jr. made a nice jump shot, and then Jamal Murray and Jeff Green dunked between them (Murray on a drive, Green off a back cut). Denver’s ball movement matched its frantic tempo, and the team’s avalanche of pressure nearly buried Miami.
At the 2:51 mark of the first quarter, four minutes after Aaron Gordon picked up his second foul, Jokic did the same. Adebayo used that as an opening to switch to small-ball center and score two consecutive and-ones against Green. His 14 points in the first quarter were the difference as Miami went on to win 22-18.
The Heat was at their best during the second quarter’s slog due to the 10 personal fouls committed by both sides. After shooting just 1 for 9 in the paint to begin the game, they eventually found success attacking the basket as Jokic was either on the bench or trying to stay out of foul trouble. Butler scored eight points, Adebayo scored four (both at the hoop or free throw line), and the bench contributed 15 points (two Kyle Lowry threes and one by Duncan Robinson) as the Raptors extended their advantage to as many as ten.
The Nuggets avoided a larger hole in the first half because of Porter’s nine points, eight rebounds, and 34 points scored in the paint. Given Denver’s 1-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc, Miami’s 51-44 halftime lead seemed slender.
As a result, the Nuggets pounded the Heat with Jokic early in the third quarter. In the first five minutes of the third quarter, Murray scored eight points and grabbed five boards, and Denver finally made a three-point shot after missing 13 in a row. After shooting 3-for-26 in the Finals, Porter finally got the Nuggets on the board with a 3-pointer in transition, giving them their first lead since the first quarter at 69-66.
The Heat took a 71-70 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to another Lowry three, but the Nuggets came out on top. Murray quickly found Jokic for a layup, and then he made two consecutive three-pointers. Miami called a timeout behind by seven points (75-71) to Denver. Since halftime, Butler had shot 2 for 12, Adebayo had shot 1 for 5, and the Nuggets’ defense had the Heat on the ropes.