By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Serbian superstar Nikola Jokic continued his stellar postseason run after notching another triple-double and helped the Denver Nuggets clinch the Game 1 victory over the Miami Heat, 104-93, in the ongoing NBA Finals last June 2, 2023.
Jokic just powered his way against the Eastern Conference champions and tallied 27 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, one steal, and a block.
From the words of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal: “Very impressive passing, scoring, leadership, and he’s a true definition of letting the game come to you. Charles (Barkley) and myself, and Grant (Hill), sometimes, we would go get it. But, you know, the first five, six minutes, he probably didn’t even take a shot.”
What the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar said was in full display after Jokic set the tone in the opening quarter with his ability to pass the ball and actively sought the mismatches that favored his teammates.
Jokic hunted Aaron Gordon’s mismatch down the post and kept on feeding him once he got the switch on the smaller Gabe Vincent or Caleb Martin.
His unselfishness then rewarded Gordon with 12 quick points in just one quarter and became the momentum booster that provided the spark for the Nuggets for the next three quarters.
The Nuggets also capitalized on Miami’s bad shooting night after only converting 13 of their 39 total attempts from the rainbow country.
Aside from their dismal three-point shooting, Miami also set an NBA Finals record for the least attempted free throws in a championship game with only two.
Despite the long lay-off after sweeping the Lakers during the Western Conference finals, the Nuggets never showed rust and ran their high-octane sets to perfection.
Jamal Murray was also electric in his first-ever NBA Finals game and contributed 26 markers built from 11/22 shooting from the field while also recording 10 assists and six rebounds.
The Heat showed some signs of life at the start of the fourth quarter when they trimmed Denver’s 17-point lead to just nine after a trey from Miami’s Haywood Highsmith.
Just when Miami thought they could pull their strings together like what they did against Boston in the first two games on the road, Denver showed they were built differently after halting their run when Jokic took over in the clutch.
Jokic scored three huge buckets in the last 3:25 of the game including the fade-away dagger from the left baseline to extend their lead back to 14 points, 104-90.
Despite a double-double performance of 26 points and 13 rebounds from star center Bam Adebayo, the Heat still couldn’t keep up with the Nuggets offensively and got outscored for three-straight quarters.
Jimmy Butler only chipped in 13 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists while the duo of Max Struss and Martin combined for a disappointing 1/17 shooting from the field.
Miami will look to steal a game on the road and equalize the series on June 5, 2023, before heading back to their home floor for Game 3 on June 8, 2023.