DENVER — Initial observations from the Denver Nuggets’ Game 1 win over the Miami Heat to tip off the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena.
1. Joker’s generosity: You can always count on Nikola Jokic to teach the children a wholesome lesson. Greeted by the biggest stage of his career, his first shot attempt wasn’t until Denver’s last possession of the first quarter. By then, he was already nurturing six assists. Twice in the first half when Miami double-teamed him in the post, he kicked out for an open 3-pointer. If the scoring-obsessed corporate entities of the NBA and ESPN were sweating about how to market the two-time MVP before the Finals, imagine the looks on their faces when Jokic still only had three shot attempts at halftime. (He made all three.) And … the Nuggets led by 17. The three best players surrounding Jokic were all in double figures. He joined LeBron James as the only players in the last 25 years with 10 points and 10 assists in any half of an NBA Finals game. Market that, coastal snobs: Sharing is caring.
2. Too small: Michael Porter Jr. proved again that he can be more than a perimeter camper. The 3-pointers weren’t falling for him Thursday — he shot 2 for 11, below half of his 40.8% mark entering the Finals — but he contributed just about every other way. MPJ had a double-double by the end of the third quarter and finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two emphatic first-half blocks — one of them after Jimmy Butler hunted him with a switch. The Porter performance was a testament to one obvious truth in this series: The Heat might be too small. It was clear from the beginning. MPJ and Aaron Gordon took advantage of mismatches against Miami’s wings. The Nuggets outscored the Heat 18-6 in the paint to start the game.
3. Flaming bricks: In a seven-game series, one ingredient of the Miami Heat upset formula is scorching 3-point shooting. Maybe next game. The Heat shot 13 for 39 from beyond the arc, highlighted by dismal nights from Max Strus and Duncan Robinson. During a critical stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter, Jokic sat several possessions and the Nuggets’ offense grew stagnant against Erik Spoelstra’s zone. They flung poorly selected 3-pointers, eventually prompting Michael Malone to direct Jokic back to the scorer’s table. What did Miami do to take advantage? Miss more perimeter shots that could have shaved the deficit to single digits a lot sooner than the 2:30 mark.