One down, three to go.
The Denver Nuggets took a 104-93 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals. Center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray led the Nuggets in scoring with 27 and 26 points, respectively. Murray hit 11 of his 22 shot attempts as he drove in for contested attempts at the paint and pulled up for mid-range attempts. The 6-foot-4-inch guard added 10 assists with pinpoint passes to forward Aaron Gordon in the post and open teammates on the perimeter.
Jokic ended the night with a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and 14 assists. He joined four other players who scored in double digits for Denver on Thursday, including Gordon, guard Bruce Brown and forward Michael Porter Jr.
Taking Game 1 in the franchise's first appearance in the NBA Finals was already impressive.
But will the Nuggets continue pushing forward in the 2023 NBA Finals and claim a victory against the Heat in Game 2? And who will be the most important contributors for Denver to take a comfortable two-game lead on Sunday?
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3. Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon will have impressive scoring nights
Denver's dynamic offense has proven its biggest strength throughout the playoffs.
The Nuggets have scored 115.6 points per game, good enough to take third place among teams that have made the postseason, according to ESPN. Denver has knocked down 38.2% of its 3-point attempts, putting it in second among playoff squads behind the Heat.
Murray's offensive production exploded as he entered the 2023 NBA playoffs. He averages 27.6 points per game in 16 postseason contests, a 7.6-point jump from his regular season average. He scored as many as 40 points in the postseason during Game 2 of the Nuggets' series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, hitting 13 of his 22 shot attempts and six of his 10 3-pointers as Denver took a 122-113 victory over Minnesota in Ball Arena.
“Blue Arrow's one of the best guards in the league and one of the best scorers in the league,” Gordon said of Murray, via ClutchPoints NBA beat writer Tomer Azarly. “When he's locked in and he's engaged, he's up there with the best players in the world.”
Gordon has had solid scoring nights of his own during the playoffs. He dropped 22 points and hit nine of his 14 shot attempts in the team's final game of its series against the Los Angeles Lakers, connecting on three of his five tries from the 3-point line as the Nuggets took a 113-111 victory in Crypto.com Arena.
If Murray and Gordon can continue finding ways to score against Miami's defense, they can have a solid chance at placing among Denver's top scorers on Sunday.
2. The Nuggets' defense will continue to keep the Heat's offense at bay
Denver's defense held its own against the Heat on Thursday.
It limited Miami to 40.6% from the field and 33.3% from the 3-point line. The Nuggets made up for their 29.6% from beyond the arc with a 50.6% field goal percentage from the floor. Forward Michael Porter Jr. finished the night with two blocks and 11 defensive rebounds, adding to the four total blocks and 39 defensive boards brought down by Denver in Ball Arena.
Head coach Mike Malone set high expectations for the Nuggets when he was asked about Porter's activity on the defensive end after Game 1.
“It's where it needs to be,” Malone said in a postgame press conference. “I think we're past the point of praising Michael when he has a good defensive game. He needs to, as does everyone else on our team. This is the NBA Finals.
“We showed one of those at halftime where they ran a pick-and-roll for Jimmy Butler. Michael tried to get under, stayed in the play and wound up blocking Jimmy from behind. Those are the plays Michael and everybody else need to play for us to win this series. It can't be ‘Look at Michael Porter. He's doing a heck of a great job.' That is his job. It's Jamal's job. It's Pope's job. Nikola. Aaron. Everybody that plays for us.”
Should Denver's defense live up to Malone's expectations, it should have the opportunity to at least keep some of Miami's more reliable scorers at bay in an important Game 2.
1. The Nuggets will take a close victory over the Heat
Counting out the Heat when it matters the most will be hard.
Just like in Game 1, that will mean setting the tone with physicality early on, as detailed by Miami forward Jimmy Butler in a postgame press conference.
“I definitely think they came out with a lot of physicality,” Butler said. “We have to be able to match that. They did their job on their home floor, you have to say that, but we'll be ready (for Game 2).
“We'll adjust and do some things very differently and come out here and get one for Game 2.”
Denver must claim victory on its home court to take a comfortable two-game lead over the Heat and keep the momentum on its side. If not, it will mean traveling to Miami with a 1-1 tie before it plays two games at the Kaseya Center.
Denver won its first two games in the playoffs against the Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, all at home, according to Basketball Reference. If it continues to tap into its home-grown star duo and its reliable supporting cast, it should be able to pull it off again one more time when it matters the most.
The Nuggets will tip off against the Heat at 6 p.m. MDT on Sunday in Ball Arena. The game will be broadcasted on ABC.