DENVER — Hours before Game 1 on Thursday, coach Michael Malone gave the Denver Nuggets a pop quiz during the team’s morning shootaround.
Malone wanted to make sure his team was locked in and ready coming off a nine-day layoff. With Nikola Jokic and Jamaal Murray leading the way, the Nuggets passed their first NBA Finals test, taking the opening game over the Miami Heat 104-93 in front of a sellout crowd waiting for the moment at the Ball Arena.
Despite taking just five shots through the first three quarters, Jokic continued his unstoppable triple-double tear this season. He joined Jason Kidd as the only players to record a triple-double in his NBA Finals debut with 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jokic’s assist total is the highest by a player in his first Finals game, and he averaged a triple-double this season with his seventh triple-double in his last nine playoff games.
“That’s the beauty of Nikola,” Malone said of Jokic not looking to score aggressively to start the game. “I learned a long time ago, the defense tells you what to do and Nicola never forces it. If they want to give him that kind of attention, he has 10 assists at halftime. Well, he’s going to pick you apart.”
The Nuggets, who are undefeated this postseason, feel they can beat any defense in a number of ways. Take away Jokic’s offense and the two-time MVP finds his teammates for open shots. Try to double-team Murray and the point guard can control the game with his passing.
Murray made his Finals debut, scoring 26 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in 44 minutes. He did most of his scoring in the first half, with 18 points by halftime.
Aaron Gordon, who has sacrificed much of his offense since joining Denver in a trade from Orlando for the 2020-21 season, set a physical tone for the Nuggets, taking advantage of the mismatch on smaller defenders and backing them up with old-school bully ball. . He hit six of his first eight shots and scored 12 points in the first quarter.
Denver led 84-60 at the end of the third quarter. When Miami cut it to 10 with 4:16 left, Jokic scored on an eight-foot floater and an eight-foot turnaround fadeaway shot.
When the Heat made another run to get within nine with 2:34 left, Jokic found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a 15-foot jumper. Jokic scored four more points to hand the Heat their first Game 1 loss of the postseason.
“Did we lose one?” Murray replied when asked if the Nuggets were concerned that the Heat had not lost Game 1.
When told the Nuggets haven’t lost a Game 1 in any round this postseason, Murray replied, “I think we’re doing a good job.”
The Murray-Jokic combo continues to thrive and find ways to get the job done against opposing defenses. According to ESPN Stats, the Nuggets stars are the third pair of teammates to have 20 points and 10 assists in a Finals game, along with Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Information.
“We want to win a championship,” Murray said. “I think it’s just smart, beautiful basketball. The ball is going and we’re playing off each other. You can have a great game with just five shots until the fourth.
“Just making reads on the basketball court. I think that’s the beauty of this team. We have so many different weapons and so many different looks. You have to guard everybody. Jokic dominated until the fourth quarter, and it didn’t seem like it. Yeah, it was free-flowing. And it’s a lot of fun.”
Jokic was later asked what he thought of the quiz Malone gave the team during the morning shootaround.
“He didn’t ask me anything,” Jokic said. “So I don’t know.”
It’s safe to say the Nuggets had all the answers in Game 1.
“I think we did a good job,” Jokic said.