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HomeBasketballNBANBA Finals Game 5: Champagne for Denver, or a chartered flight back...

NBA Finals Game 5: Champagne for Denver, or a chartered flight back to Miami

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Tonight feels like the night.

The night the Denver Nuggets add their names to the list of NBA Champions.

Denver’s had an interesting run to this point. The Nuggets got all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2020 in the Bubble, then battled injuries the next two seasons that saw Denver finish the regular season as a four seed and six seed, respectively. Ironically, Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic won back-to-back MVPs leading a lesser team.

The last two healthy versions of the Nuggets we’ve seen have been among the best teams in the League. The latest version is on the way to an NBA title. It’s not fair to say they’d be working on some sort of dynasty had they been healthy the last couple of years — not fair to the Milwaukee Bucks or the Golden State Warriors. But the Nuggets are here now.

The Miami Heat have battled all postseason long. But the Heat has struggled, going 2-6 in its last eight playoff games. We know the formula for Miami’s success now: hit 3s at a high clip.

So what happens in Game 5? Do the Heat find the stroke from deep? Or do the Nuggets celebrate their first title? I’m leaning toward the former. Tonight feels like a game where Denver shoots an insanely high percentage from 3 on its way to a parade later this week.

First quarter

11:39: Heat big man Bam Adebayo continues his strong play with a steal and a two-handed slam to start tonight’s scoring. Bam and Jimmy Butler HAVE to have big games tonight.

10:00: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finally puts Denver on the board. The Nuggets have been all over the place to start tonight. They have three turnovers in two minutes. Feels like a team playing to clinch its first chip.

8:16: KCP hits a weird runner off the glass to cut the Heat lead to 5-4. This game has been 2002 Sacramento Kings ugly so far. Denver and Miami to start have gone a combined 5-15 from the field.

6:48: Nuggets guard Jamal Murray sees the lane open up and goes all the way for a one-handed hammer. Denver is turning it on. The Nuggets are on an 6-0 run.

5:57: Coming in for Aaron Gordon, who picked up two early fouls, Nuggets sub Jeff Green hits a jumper to put Denver up 12-5. Miami has missed 10 shots in a row. The Avalanche is coming. Nobody on Miami can make a shot, Jimmy’s already missed two from the line. Is Jokic gonna sip champagne tonight or is he a beer guy?

5:41: Heat guard Max Strus gets an and-1 out of a timeout on a drive right at Jokic to stop the bleeding. Those are Miami’s first points in five minutes. 

4:43: Bam gets his customary oop on a pick and roll with Strus. Adebayo and Strus are the only Heat players to score to this point. Butler is 0-3, 0-2 from the line. Jimmy hasn’t been right for some time now. 

2:51: Jokic gets called for a dumb blocking foul picking up Caleb Martin full court. He and Gordon both have two fouls and Jokic has to sit. Could be a turning point in the game.

2:42: Annnnnnd Adebayo gets a bucket, and-1 to put Miami up 19-18. They refuse to die, man.

2:14: Bam hits another short jumper and draws a foul to force a Denver timeout. Miami’s on a 13-2 run the last 2 and a half minutes. Bam’s been a force tonight.

:39.1: Michael Porter Jr. hits his second bucket in a row to tie the game at 22. Porter Jr. is as inconsistent as they come but he’s shown up tonight.

0:00: Miami up 24-22 after 1. Bam Adebayo is the story to this point. Him and the two early fouls on Jokic and Gordon. With the way this game has been played, if Butler can give the Heat anything it feels like Miami can extend the series.

Second quarter

11:39: Butler goes at Denver sub DeAndre Jordan and gets a layup off the glass. Maybe that’ll get Jimmy going.

9:46: Butler draws a second foul on Murray on a baseline drive. Jimmy’s doing a good job so far tonight of working to manufacture points. He’s already taken six free throws tonight, more than his per game average in these Finals.

9:09: Gordon picks up his third foul trying to stop a drive by Caleb Martin. Jokic takes Gordon’s spot on the floor. If Jokic is a superstar, he won’t have his third foul until late in the third quarter.

7:17: Duncan Robinson hits a layup off a pass from Adebayo to put Miami up 10. This game has been all about effort so far. Robinson missed a wing 3 and had the awareness to keep moving, which led to the bucket. Denver has cooled off considerably since its early run.

6:17: Caldwell-Pope hits a baseline J, then Jokic and Kyle Lowry get into a bit. I like it. Lowry can be an irritant. Jokic can’t afford to be baited into any more fouls.

4:13: Lowry hits his second three in as many possessions to keep the Heat lead at 6. That’s 17 bench points for Miami so far.

1:45: Bruce Brown misses a wide open 3 as Denver starts 1-14 from deep. I’m actually shocked they’ve shot so bad from 3. Miami’s zone defense has been good tonight, but Denver is getting wide open shots against it.

0:00: Miami leads by seven at half. The Heat has done all the little things tonight: diving for loose balls, playing passing lanes, following missed shots. Miami never lacks effort, and they’ve shown it greatly in a spot they need to.

Third quarter

11:28: Jokic gets a crazy mismatch with Gabe Vincent on him, scores, and draws a foul. He’s 5-7 from the field tonight. He may need to get 40 to take Denver home.

8:33: Kevin Love hits a wing 3 to stop a short Denver run. Miami’s had an answer for Denver’s spurts all night long.

6:45: Murray hits a corner 3 to tie the game at 60. He’s been really aggressive so far this quarter, as has Jokic, who’s scored 8 of his 17 points in the third. Denver’s on a 7-0 run. Can Miami answer again?

3:58: Miami goes on a quick 4-0 spurt to take a 64-60 lead. Denver’s missing dunks, throwing careless passes, can’t hit a 3. This feels a lot like Game 2. That’s a game Miami won despite Butler’s offensive struggles.

3:06: KCP misses a corner 3 as Denver is now 2-21 from 3. The Nuggets again have forgotten they’re the bigger, stronger team. Denver needs to get back to forcing the issues and wearing down Miami with that big front line.

1:30: Porter Jr. splashes a 3 to give Denver its first lead since the first quarter. He’s had his minutes cut this series, but Porter Jr. has responded with a strong game tonight. He’s already got 16 points and 12 rebounds.

:32:2: Lowry nails a DEEP straightaway 3 to put Miami back up and give the Heat a 2-for-1 at the end of the quarter. Really smart play from Lowry.

0:00: Miami leads by 1 after 3. Tonight has been a battle.

Fourth quarter

10:59: Murray hits a wing 3 off some good ball movement to put Denver up 4. Heat call a very quick timeout. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t want the game to get away from his team. The Heat started the quarter with Bam on the bench. I wonder how long that’ll last? Cody Zeller has played just the first minute of this fourth quarter. He’s a -5 tonight.

9:38: Lowry nails a corner 3 with the shot clock running down to cut the Dnver lead to 1. He’s hit as many 3s tonight (four) as the entire Nuggets team.

6:42: Aaron Gordon swallows up a Lowry jumper, then Murray hits a midrange shot to give Denver a 5-point lead. Spolestra calls another timeout. Only three guys on the Heat roster have made less shots than the two Butler has hit tonight, and two of them have played a total of four minutes. Butler hasn’t been “Playoff Jimmy” for almost a month. Nobody should call him that ever again.

4:43: Jokic hits a short jumper to extend the Denver lead. He quietly has 26 and 13 rebounds and is 11-14 from the field tonight.

4:29: Butler nails a corner 3 to cut the Denver lead to four. Miami needed that in the worst way.

3:47: Butler hits another 3 to trim the Nuggets lead to four. The Heat is still in striking distance…

3:21: Butler draws a foul on a play where he wasn’t touched at all. That’s an egregiously bad call. Now Butler goes to the line for three free throws with a chance to pull Miami within one.

2:47: Butler continues his clutch play with a short shot over KCP. Miami up one.

2:24: Jokic fights into the lane for a bucket to give Denver a one-point edge. Here we go.

1:31: Bruce Brown sneaks in behind everybody to follow a Murray miss with a putback. Denver up 1. This is getting good!

:27.1; Butler throws the ball away (after it look like he traveled on a drive to the hoop) and KCP intercepts it. Oof. Butler looked like Fred Brown there. Caldwell-Pope goes to the line in a night where the Nuggets have been bad from there. Naturally, he makes both to give Denver a 3-point lead.

:14.3: Butler misses a wing 3 with Gordon draped all over him. That’s a tough shot. Miami fouls Brown and he hits two free throws to put Denver up 5. That might be it.

0:00: Lowry hits a 3 and Miami doesn’t foul. The Nuggets win the title. Jokic locks up his first Finals MVP.

Helluva run by Denver on its way to the ring. The Nuggets finish 16-4 in the playoffs. Only the 2017 Golden State Warriors (16-1) in the last 15 years finished with a better playoff record.

We don’t need to discuss the team’s place in history. The title seals that. The 2023 Nuggets aren’t an all-time great team, as it trailed off at the end of the regular season once it had the No. 1 seed in the west locked up.

Denver on this run showed everything you want to see from a champion: toughness, resolve, clutch play. 

For champions, basketball has more often than not been about The Climb: the Pistons heartbreaks before breaking through in 1989, the Bulls being beaten up by the Pistons before manning up in 1991, the Lakers playoff struggles in 1998 and 1999 before reaching the peak in 2000.

We haven’t really discussed that with Denver. The Nuggets over the last five years have been on that climb: a tough home loss to Portland in a Game 7 in 2019, losing in the bubble in 2020, struggling because of injuries the last two seasons.

Denver finally broke through. And the Nuggets were led by one of the best players of all time. That’s been the recipe for dynasties. Jokic for the playoffs led all players in points, rebounds, and assists. He’s the first player in league history to accomplish that. Jokic this spring easily had one the best individual playoff runs of all time.

It’s too early to say where Jokic ranks all-time. Let him finish his career, or at least put together a few more years of this, before that debate starts. But he’s certified now. Sure, he has the two MVPs, but the chip puts you over the top. It’s why we look at guys like Dirk Nowitzki differently than we would had he not won in 2011. 

Things will be different now for Denver. Yea, all the Nuggets main guys are locked in long term, outside of Bruce Brown. But things change with success. It’s why The Disease of More is a real thing. Guys will want more money, more shots, more endorsement opportunities. It’s up to Jokic to keep things together. 

Denver has the makings of a dynasty. With the exception of KCP, everyone who logged big minutes for the Nuggets in the Finals is 28 or younger. But strange things happen: injuries, squabbles in the locker room. Look at Milwaukee two years ago. Look at the 2008 Celtics. Look at the Warriors last year. On paper, Denver should be the runaway favorite for the 2024 title. The Nuggets are currently favored to repeat, but they’re not overwhelming favorites. Factor in also that Denver is the fifth different champion in the last five seasons. 

I don’t know if Denver is going to morph into the next dynasty. But I’m hype to watch the Nuggets try.

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