After a long wait, the Denver Nuggets will know who they are facing in the NBA Finals on Monday night.

Initially, it appeared that the Miami Heat would steamroll the Boston Celtics in a short series. The Heat went up 3-0, including an embarrassing and seemingly demoralizing Game 3 for the Celtics. It appeared that Boston quit midway through the Eastern Conference Finals, and after the Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers the following day, Nuggets fans began to focus in on Jimmy Butler and the Heat as their Finals opponent.

Then, Games 4, 5, and 6 happened, and Miami still hasn’t clinched that Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Boston is on the verge of history, tying the series at 3-3 and playing Game 7 at home for the second playoff round in a row. Boston could become the first team in NBA playoff history to come back from a 0-3 series deficit. After winning three games in a row, including a Game 6 tip-in buzzer beater by Derrick White, the Celtics have all the momentum they need to complete the reverse sweep as well.

All the while, the Nuggets have waited patiently. No matter who wins, the NBA Finals will begin on Thursday, June 1st. If the Celtics win, the Nuggets will travel to Boston for Game 1. If the Heat win, they will travel to Denver for Game 1 instead. That’s a major factor that affects the NBA Finals off the bat, but there are plenty of others.

Here’s what Nuggets fans need to know about the benefits and detriments of playing the Celtics or the Heat in the NBA Finals this year:

Boston Celtics


  • Major rest advantage (20 games played for Boston in playoffs)
  • Mental Mistakes
  • Jokić-Murray two-man game has every answer

The Celtics have certainly proved their mettle over the last two rounds of the playoffs, facing elimination in several games during these playoffs and surviving every time. An issue with playing multiple seven-game series in the playoffs is the amount of mileage though. Through the playoffs, no three players have played more minutes than Jayson Tatum (757 minutes), Jaylen Brown (708), and Marcus Smart (644). Those numbers will all go up in Game 7 as well, possibly the most intense environment the NBA has to offer. The Nuggets know from experience during the 2020 Bubble how difficult it can be to maintain peak performance after multiple Game 7s, and it’s very possible that the Celtics run out of gas facing another elite team in Denver.

In addition, the Celtics appear to be liable to commit mental mistakes at inopportune moments during this playoff run. The Celtics commit live-ball turnovers more frequently than most playoff teams, and according to PBP Stats, they have incurred 140 “live ball” turnovers and 56 “lost ball” turnovers during the playoffs, by far the most in the NBA. The Nuggets have shown an ability to capitalize on those kinds of mistakes throughout the season.

Finally, the Celtics have has defensive successes and failures throughout these playoffs, but they haven’t faced a tandem like Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. Yes, they defeated Joel Embiid and James Harden, but that particular duo is much more formulaic and one-dimensional than Denver’s dynamic, read-and-react system. The Celtics would likely play Al Horford on Jokić with Robert Williams roaming behind him, but the Nuggets have counters and answers for that, as they showed the Los Angeles Lakers with Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis.


  • Have to win on the road
  • Elite shooting team
  • More size/athleticism
  • Deeper, versatile team

The most important issue for Denver is playing four out of seven games in the series on the road, including the first two. The Nuggets, to this point, have gone up 2-0 in every series they played due to homecourt advantage. They wouldn’t have that against the Celtics, and that would impact the flow of the series more than anything else.

The next issue is Boston’s shooting. The Celtics are shooting 37.8% from three-point range in the playoffs in “non-garbage time” according to Cleaning the Glass. That ranks fourth in the NBA, and it’s a higher percentage than the Minnesota Timberwolves (35.5%), Phoenix Suns (34.4), or Los Angeles Lakers (35.6) shot against the Nuggets. The Celtics like to let it fly, with 41.0% of their shots coming from behind the arc, the fourth most in the NBA playoff field. They’re capable of hitting shots off the dribble, but the Celtics are at their best when they drive and kick to find open shooters off the catch, and they have plenty of players capable of hitting important shots.

Unlike the Suns and Lakers, the Celtics have three very capable defensive bigs that can mix and match against Jokić a bit more. Tatum and Brown are also big wings and will clog passing lanes, while none of the Celtics guards are small by any means. The Celtics simply have more size across the board than the others teams the Nuggets have faced outside of certain matchups against the Timberwolves, but the Celtics are far more athletic than that group. The Celtics roster is deep, talented, and versatile, and it would force Denver to be great on their details to stay ahead of that size/athleticism.

Miami Heat


  • Homecourt advantage
  • Weaker, less versatile team
  • Smaller team with no answer for Jokić
  • Matchups for guarding Jimmy Butler

Unlike the Celtics, the Heat would have to travel to Denver to face the Nuggets in Game 1, an automatic and obvious benefit for the Nuggets. As mentioned in the section above, the Nuggets have started every playoff series so far in the same manner: two home wins to put the opponent on edge. Denver would have an opportunity to do that against Miami in a way they couldn’t against Boston.

Unlike Boston, the Miami roster is also just less talented. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have done a great job in these playoffs, and Miami’s role players have certainly shot the ball well throughout the playoffs to get them to this point. Still, the Heat were a seventh seed (dropped to eight in the play-in tournament) for a reason, winning 44 games during the regular season and maintaining a negative point differential. Miami’s optionality on offense and defense stems from their role players stepping up, and while they have to this point, it’s reasonable to think that the Heat just aren’t as talented of a team as the Celtics.

In addition, the Heat don’t have the size to capably guard Jokić. While the Celtics have three players in Al Horford, Rob Williams, and Grant Williams to mix and match on Jokić, the Heat have a dearth of bigs and forwards to use against the superstar center. Bam Adebayo will get the primary assignment, but Kevin Love and Cody Zeller are the only other bigs the Heat have used in a regular playoff rotation. That’s not good enough defensively against Jokić.

Finally, the Nuggets have more optionality against Jimmy Butler than most teams. Aaron Gordon will likely get the primary assignment, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. will switch onto him and do a reasonable job. Jamal Murray will be undersized, but he will battle Butler in the post. Jokić will concede jumpers to Butler, and that’s okay. Off the bench, Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Christian Braun can all switch onto Butler and guard him in different ways. They may not be successful, but it’s not the worst matchup Denver’s had in the playoffs so far when going against a physical player. That matchup instead goes to Devin Booker, whose elite perimeter shooting was nearly impossible to slow down.


  • Elite shooting team
  • Bam is well conditioned enough to battle Jokić every game
  • Quick guards that can score off the dribble in space

Like Boston, Miami has shot the ball extremely well in the playoffs. They’re capable of winning games with hot outside shooting from their role players as has happened all playoffs. Tyler Herro hasn’t even played, and he might come back to add a shooting boost as well. Whether it’s Butler (shooting better in the playoffs), Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, or Kevin Love, every single role player is shooting 35% from three-point range or better. That’s an impressive collection of shooters.

While Adebayo may not have a ton of individual success against Jokić, he’s the rare center that matches up with Jokić from a conditioning standpoint. Jokić has often outworked his matchup in the first three rounds, leading to some elite games later in the series against tired competition. Adebayo will wear down against Jokić too, but perhaps not to the same degree as Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton, or Anthony Davis. The 6’9″ switchable center in Miami will run the floor, hustle on the glass, and battle in the post against Jokić. He won’t have success initially, but his energy levels may wear down Jokić over time.

Finally, Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry represent two of the only quick guards that can shoot off the dribble that the Nuggets have faced this postseason. Mike Conley was the other one, and he shot the ball really well against Denver off-the-dribble, taking advantage of Jokić’s size and lesser agility as well as Denver’s defensive schemes. Could Vincent and Lowry do something similar? It’s not at the top of Denver’s scouting report, but they would have to respect those guys jitterbugging around the perimeter and knifing into the paint.


Based on the matchups, the data, and the homecourt advantage, the Celtics would be the tougher NBA Finals matchup for the Nuggets.

As stated in the reasons above, the Celtics are a very talented team with a versatile rotation, a group that would match up with the Nuggets reasonably well on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets have players and schemes to counter what the Celtics like to do, but there’s a lot of talent on a roster that won the second most regular season games and led the NBA in regular season net rating by a significant margin. There’s reason to believe that if the Celtics were to win Game 7, then they would be favored over the Nuggets for those reasons.

Miami has certainly proven their capability over this playoff run though. They may have lost three in a row at this point, but they’re one game away from the NBA Finals for a reason. Jimmy Butler has largely been the second best player in the NBA playoffs this year behind Jokić, and he’s capable of having another great game in Boston to steal Game 7 tonight.

Whatever happens, the Nuggets will be well rested and ready. They’re game planning for both teams, hoping to understand their tendencies, actions, and players as best as Denver can. Jokić and Murray have navigated plenty of tough situations before, and there’s no reason they can’t solve matchups with either the Celtics or Heat. Whether the Nuggets are at home or on the road in Game 1, they’ll be the favorites in my book.