Head coach Michael Malone presented the Denver Nuggets a pop quiz during the team’s morning shootaround hours before Game 1 on Thursday.
Malone wants to make sure his squad was focused and ready after a nine-day vacation. With Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way, the Nuggets breezed through their first NBA Finals test, defeating the Miami Heat 104-93 in front of a sold-out crowd at Ball Arena.
Despite only taking five shots in the first three quarters, Jokic maintained his unstoppable triple-double streak in this playoffs. He and Jason Kidd became the only players in NBA Finals history to record a triple-double, ending with 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.
Jokic had the most assists of any player in his first Finals game, and he recorded his seventh triple-double in his last nine playoff games, continuing to average a triple-double this playoffs.
“That’s the beauty of Nikola,” Malone said of Jokic’s decision not to try to score early in the game. “Long ago, I learned that the defence tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it.” If they’re going to pay him that much attention, he should have 10 assists before halfway. Well, he’ll simply pick you apart.”
The Nuggets, who are still unbeaten at home this playoffs, believe they can overcome any defence in a variety of ways. Take away Jokic’s offence, and the two-time MVP will look for open shooters from his teammates. Try to work in pairs. Murray and the point guard may use their passing to dominate the game.
Murray scored 26 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds in 44 minutes of Finals action. He scored most of his points in the first half, totaling 18 at halftime.
Aaron Gordon, who has given up most of his offence since being traded from Orlando to Denver in the 2020-21 season, established a combative tone for the Nuggets, exploiting mismatches on smaller players and backing them in with old-school bully ball. In the first quarter, he hit six of his first eight shots and scored 12 points.
At the conclusion of the third quarter, Denver led 84-60. With 4:16 left, Jokic scored on an eight-foot floater and an eight-foot turnaround fadeaway ball to trim the lead to ten.
With 2:34 remaining, Jokic found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a 15-foot shot to bring the Heat within nine points. Jokic added four more points to deliver the Heat their first Game 1 setback of the playoffs.
“Have we lost someone?” Murray said when asked whether the Nuggets were concerned by the Heat’s lack of a Game 1 loss.
When asked whether the Nuggets had lost a Game 1 in any round this playoffs, Murray said, “I think we’re doing a good job.”
The Murray-Jokic duo continues to prosper and find ways to outperform opposition defences. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Nuggets’ players became the third set of teammates to have 20 points and 10 assists in a Finals game, following the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
“We just want to win the championship,” Murray said. “I think it’s just beautiful, fluent basketball.” The ball is bouncing about, and we’re simply bouncing off each other. With just five shots till the fourth, you can have a terrific game.”On the basketball floor, I’m just making readings. That, I believe, is the beauty of this team. We have so many various weaponry and appearances. You must protect everyone. Jokic was dominant until the fourth quarter, yet it didn’t seem like it. Sure, it’s free-flowing and a lot of fun.”
Afterward, Jokic was asked what he thought of the quiz Malone gave the players at the morning shootaround.