The Nuggets Won Their First-Ever NBA Title With A Gritty Game 5 Win Over The Heat

After back-to-back wins at Kaseya Center in Miami, the Denver Nuggets returned home for Game 5 of the 2023 NBA Finals with a chance to close out the Miami Heat on Monday evening. In fitting fashion, Miami led for long periods of the evening, scratching and clawing in a way the Heat have throughout the playoffs. Denver entered the halftime break with a seven-point deficit as a result, but the Nuggets held the Heat to only 38 points in the second half and, when the final buzzer sounded, Nikola Jokic and company earned the Larry O’Brien Trophy and the first NBA title in franchise history.

Led by Bam Adebayo’s 18 points and nine rebounds, Miami controlled the pace in the first half. The action was sloppy and scattered throughout the game, but the Heat executed at a superior level prior to the half, with the Nuggets shooting only 1-of-15 (!) from three-point range and 3-of-8 at the free throw line.

Denver began to awaken in the second half, at least from an overall execution standpoint, and eventually found the bottom of the net on a few occasions.

Denver eventually built its lead to 86-79 with approximately four minutes remaining, and the Nuggets seemed to be garnering control. Still, it was anything but easy for Michael Malone’s team. For one thing, Heat star Jimmy Butler awakened from a lengthy slumber, engineering an 8-0 run that featured strong shooting and a (very) controversial foul call and failed challenge.

Following that controversy, the teams continued to trade haymakers with the tension at an immense level. Jokic gave the Nuggets the lead before Butler took it back with free throws. Then, Bruce Brown produced a second-chance bucket with 1:31 remaining to put Denver in front, and that ended up being a lead the Nuggets would not relinquish. After empty trips by both teams, Butler nearly traveled before throwing the ball away and, when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stole the ball and drew a foul, he made both to give Denver a three-point edge.

Butler missed a game-tying effort with 17 seconds remaining, with Denver snatching the rebound and Bruce Brown heading to the free throw line after Miami was forced to foul to extend the game. Brown, like Caldwell-Pope, calmly buried both attempts, and that was the cushion Denver needed to ultimately secure a five-point victory.

While Denver earning the title is, of course, the primary takeaway of the evening, this particular game will also be remembered for its overall mania. The Nuggets won despite 5-of-28 shooting from three-point range and 13-of-23 at the free throw line, with Denver also committing 15 uncharacteristic turnovers that led to 21 points for Miami. On the other side, the Heat shot only 34 percent from the field and 9-of-35 from three-point range, even with the late barrage from Butler and four triples from Kyle Lowry.

It wasn’t the prettiest performance from a team that played otherwise beautiful basketball on the way to 16 postseason wins. However, Jokic was the best player in the world over the last several weeks, finishing with 28 points and 16 rebounds in the clincher, and Denver’s much-doubted defense performed at a tremendous level throughout what became a dominant playoff push. With the win, the Nuggets finish 16-4 in the postseason, and it was a dominant run befitting of a champion.

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