Denver defeated Miami 104-93 in a game that was a lot more lopsided than the score may suggest. The Heat made a late push in the fourth quarter, but they trailed by almost 20 points most of the second half as the Nuggets really limited their opponent's opportunities offensively.
Offensively, the Nuggets were scoring with ease and the getting high percentage shots they are accustomed to making.
Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon combined for 83 of their team's 104 total points in Game 1, and Jokic made NBA Finals history by recording a triple-double in his first ever Finals game.
On the other side of things, the Heat will head back to the drawing board ahead of Game 2, as their shots were not falling and Bam Adebayo was their only source of scoring. Adebayo finished the game with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, but Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson combined to shoot 2-23 from the floor, with both made shots coming from the perimeter. Superstar forward Jimmy Butler had just 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a game where he recorded a plus-minus of -17.
The race for this year's Finals MVP award is heavily favoring Nuggets two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, but only one game is in the books and there is still a lot of basketball yet to be played in this championship series. Here is an early look at the 2023 NBA Finals MVP Power Rankings following Denver's Game 1 victory on Thursday.
1. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
Look, we are running out of adjectives to describe Nikola Jokic simply because he is brilliant. What Jokic has done in the NBA Playoffs is simply incredible. After recording 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Nuggets MVP now has nine total triple-doubles in 16 playoff games this year. What he did against Miami on Thursday night was incredible due to the fact that he dominated without scoring for much of the game. He really did not get involved scoring-wise until the second half, but Jokic's passing in this game was jaw-dropping from the opening tip. Denver's big man is surely the favorite to win the Finals MVP award and will likely be the unanimous winner of said award should the Nuggets win their first title.
2. Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
While Jokic led the team in scoring in Game 1, Jamal Murray was really the top offensive weapon for the Nuggets in this game. Murray finished the night with 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, proving once more that he is very much back from a knee injury that sidelined him all of the 2021-22 season. What makes the Nuggets guard such a special player is that he does not back down from any challenge or anyone defending him. No matter the odds, Murray always looks to put his team in a position to win, and he did so in the first half with 18 points on 8-12 shooting from the floor. Like Jokic, Murray made a little bit of Finals history of his own, as he became the second-youngest player to post 25 points and 10 assists in a Finals game over the last 30 years, trailing only Russell Westbrook. Jokic and Murray go hand-in-hand with one another, as the Nuggets would not be in a position to win a title without either player.
3. Michael Porter Jr. – Denver Nuggets
The X-factor for Denver all season long has been Michael Porter Jr. When he is healthy, he is the guy who takes them from being a playoff threat to a real title threat. Well, Porter has been healthy, and now the Nuggets are just three wins away from a championship. With 14 points and 13 rebounds in Game 1, the Nuggets wing recorded his seventh double-double of the playoffs as he continues to also step up defensively. Not only is he grabbing rebounds, but Porter has been a factor as an on-ball defender, as he recorded two blocks in this game against Miami. Going from dropping in the 2018 NBA Draft due to back issues and then having to undergoing multiple back surgeries to the point where nobody knew if he would be an effective talent, Porter is the ultimate “I need to root for this guy” player in this league. If he continues to record double-doubles and can get going from three-point range, the 6'10” forward will be a main reason why the Nuggets raise a banner in Ball Arena.
4. Aaron Gordon – Denver Nuggets
The Heat do not have a lot of size on their roster, something the Nuggets took advantage of early on in Game 1. Aaron Gordon drew matchups against the likes of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus in the opening quarter, resulting in easy baskets at the rim. Six of Gordon's seven made shots came in the first quarter against the Heat as he got to the paint with ease. While he may not be the most explosive scorer in the league, Gordon is perhaps the most important player on the Nuggets because of his versatility. Gordon can run in transition, he's stronger than most of his opponents, he can jump over anyone of the floor, and he has really come into his own as a primary defender on the perimeter. Drawing the defensive assignment on Jimmy Butler, the Nuggets forward did a superb job of not letting Miami's star get going offensively.
5. Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
At least one Heat player needs to be in the top-five rankings for Finals MVP right now, and it seems the only one who was prepared for Game 1 of the NBA Finals was Bam Adebayo. After four straight playoffs games failing to score at least 20 points, Bam exploded for 26 points on 13-of-25 shooting, the most points he has scored in a game in the postseason this year. Adebayo also had 13 rebounds and five assists in this game, really sending a message to the Nuggets of how aggressive he is going to play this series. Hats off to Adebayo for his Game 1 performance, but if the Heat are to win Game 2 and possibly come back in this series, Butler is going to have to be the guy for them as he has been all postseason long. Adebayo must continue to play well for Miami to possibly win the championship, but at the end of the day, he cannot be their best player.
Others to watch for: Jimmy Butler (MIA), Caleb Martin (MIA), Max Strus (MIA)
A trio of Heat players round out the list of those on “NBA Finals MVP watch” this year. Butler is obvious here given he is the Heat's best player and needs to be great in order for them to win, but Caleb Martin and Max Strus are two secondary guys. Martin is coming off of a seven-game series against the Boston Celtics in which he averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 60.2 percent from the floor and 48.9 percent from three-point range. If Martin can bounce back from his three-point performance on Thursday, he will be a key reason why the Heat have a chance in this series. As for Strus, he is an electric three-point shooter as well. Going 0-9 from three-point range was a death sentence for Miami, but he can get hot at any moment in any game. Who knows, maybe Strus will turn 0-9 from three into 9-9 from three in the next game. Game 2 should be a fascinating one after these teams make their adjustments.