Well aware of their opponent’s penchant for fast starts, the Denver Nuggets treated their first-ever NBA Finals game as if everything were on the line.
Even with the Game 1 urgency, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic never panicked, finishing off another triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists as the Nuggets rolled to a 104-93 victory Thursday against the visiting Miami Heat.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Sunday in Denver.
Jamal Murray scored 26 points and handed out 10 assists, Michael Porter Jr. added 14 points and 13 rebounds and Aaron Gordon had 16 points as the Nuggets won the series opener without having to lean heavily on Jokic, even as he ended up leading the way.
“Right now, the most important thing is to win a game, and I’m trying to win a game in any possible way,” Jokic said on the ABC broadcast. “I don’t need to shoot and I know I don’t need to score to affect the game, and I think I did a good job today. Everybody contributed.”
Jokic wound up 8 of 12 from the field after taking just five shots through three quarters. He extended his NBA single-year record with his ninth triple-double of the playoffs.
Denver, the Western Conference’s top seed, shot 59.5 percent from the field in the first half and 50.6 percent for the game while improving to 9-0 at home in the playoffs. The Nuggets were sharp, even after a nine-day wait between their conference-final sweep and the start of the NBA Finals.
Bam Adebayo amassed 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Heat, but Jimmy Butler was held to 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference failed to win the opener of a series on the road for the first time in four tries.
“I reminded our group, if they didn’t know, that Miami went into Milwaukee (in the first round) and won Game 1,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “They went into the Garden in New York City (in the second round) and won Game 1. They won Game 1 up in Boston (in the Eastern Conference finals). So we did not want them coming in here, taking control of the series on our court.”
Gabe Vincent scored 19 points while Haywood Highsmith added 18 for the Heat, who shot 37.5 percent in the first half and 40.6 percent on the night. Miami was 2 of 2 from the free-throw line, an NBA Finals record for least number of free-throw attempts in a playoff game.
“They were in a pretty good rhythm, especially in that first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Nuggets. “Our disposition, the efforts, the resolve in the second half was much better. But (when) you get to this level, it has to be complete games of that disposition.”
Jokic was content to occupy the role of playmaker in the first quarter, not taking his first shot from the field until 3.3 seconds remained. He made the close-range attempt as Denver took a 29-20 lead at the end of the opening period.
The Nuggets opened their first double-digit lead at 32-22 on a 3-pointer by Murray with 10:31 remaining in the first half, and the hosts led 59-42 at halftime.
Denver grabbed its first lead of at least 20 points at 81-60 with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter, on a pull-up jumper from Bruce Brown. The Nuggets went into the fourth quarter with an 84-63 advantage.
The Heat opened the final period on an 11-0 run to get within 84-74 with 9:29 remaining. The Nuggets seized control again, taking a 90-74 lead with 7:16 left on a layup from Jokic, and closed out the victory from there.
“I definitely think (the Nuggets) came out with a lot of physicality, and we have to be able to match that,” said Butler, who insisted he was not affected by the effort expended to win the Eastern Conference finals in seven games. “They did their job on their home floor. You have to say that. But we will be ready, we will adjust and do things differently.”