The Denver Nuggets are 2022-23 NBA Champions.

After a long, arduous season highlighted by a slow build toward an unbelievable playoff run, the Nuggets closed out the Miami Heat 94-89 in Game 5 on their home floor to win the first championship in franchise history.

Nikola Jokić is an NBA champion. Jamal Murray is an NBA champion. Michael Malone is an NBA champion. They finally did it, and they did it together.

Nikola Jokić led all scorers with 28 points. He was one of just two players in the game to shoot above 50% for either team. His stability and poise in the biggest moment of the season was unbelievable to watch, and he made play after play on both ends of the floor when the team needed him most.

Jimmy Butler made things interesting down the stretch with some incredible three-point shooting and a drawn foul beyond the arc, but the Nuggets kept their composure, holding Miami to 89 points on the game. The Nuggets defense found ways to bother the Heat over and over again in this series, and in the biggest moment of the season, Denver held Miami to 34.4% from the field and 25.7% from three. Zero players on the Heat shot 50% or better.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets magical night against the Heat:

The Denver Nuggets were ICE COLD

For the vast majority of this game, the Nuggets couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean if they tried. The Heat went back to their zone defense and used it to bother Denver’s rhythm consistently. Most of Denver’s shots were off of rushed possessions, and even though most of the looks were clean, the flow led to shots at weird times. There were also clearly some nerves, leading the Nuggets to begin the game shooting 2-of-22 from distance.

The shooting struggles didn’t get much better, but they eased up a bit with some important shots in the second half. Jamal Murray hit a three-pointer in transition off a nice pass from Michael Porter Jr. (who had a solid game). Porter then finally hit a three-pointer in the fourth quarter, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit an important three midway through the fourth.

Ultimately, the Nuggets had to survive this game without elite three-point shooting. They shot 5-of-28 from three (17.9%), and somehow, that was enough because they did everything else.

Michael Porter Jr. has his moment

It wasn’t the three-point shooting display that many hoped for at the end, but the Nuggets go enough from Michael Porter Jr. to get by. On a night when the entire team’s three-point shooting wasn’t where it needed to be, Porter made the second most shots of anybody, including six shots inside the arc. Porter proved to be too big for an undersized Miami front line on cuts, offensive rebounds, and drives to the rim.

Porter didn’t close the game, but his 16 points, 13 rebounds, and three assists in 33 minutes helped the Nuggets survive some poor outside shooting from the entire group. He shot 7-of-17 and 1-of-6 from three, but it’s hard to blame him too much when just about everybody was missing.

Porter’s willingness to be what the Nuggets needed him to be rather than what he wanted bore out through the entire playoffs. He didn’t always play as much or shoot as much as he may have wanted, but he was essential to their success. It’s cool to see him have his moment.

Defense wins championships

The Nuggets in this series allowed point totals of 95, 94, 93, and 89 points in their four wins. The Heat may not have been the greatest offense in the world, but in years past, they would have exploited Denver’s weaknesses better than they did. Jokić was often the mark. Porter wasn’t a good defender. Murray was often too small. The Nuggets weren’t ready to defend the way they needed to.

But in these playoffs, they did what they had to do. The team was on a string, defending for each other, and doing what it took to win. The Nuggets only scored 94 points, but they held the Heat to 89 because if they didn’t, who knows how things would have gone? They rose to the occasion in ways they wouldn’t have in past seasons. Brown, Caldwell-Pope, Braun, and Gordon deserve a ton of that credit, but the most credit goes to the big fella.

Nikola Jokić is inevitable

It may take some a little bit longer to warm up to the idea of Nikola Jokić, but the fact is: Jokić has earned your respect. That wasn’t an issue for most, but it was an issue that persisted all the way up through the Finals. Whether it was his defense, or his penchant for passing instead of scoring, or something completely unrelated to basketball, there were doubters for a long time.

At the end of it, Nikola Jokić is the Bill Russell Finals MVP for the NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

Jokić finished the game with 28 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists, shooting 12-of-16 from the field in his 42 minutes. The Heat could barely score while he was on the court, and he helped lock down the paint in ways many never believed possible. His all-around game was exquisite, and on a night when nobody could shoot efficiently, his ability to take and make both easy and hard shots carried the Nuggets when they needed it most.

There is no question anymore: Nikola Jokić is the best player in the world.

This has been a season for the ages. Nuggets fans have been dreaming of a year like this for a long, long time.

The Nuggets took their time, never got too high or too low, and stayed the course in ways that many teams wouldn’t.

I remember being at a bar on the night of the 2016 NBA Draft when Jamal Murray was drafted. He’s been through absolute hell and back to get to this point, and the moment was clearly overwhelming.

Michael Porter Jr. went through three back surgeries to be here. He’s bought into his role and done everything the Nuggets needed from him. Aaron Gordon was the perfect missing piece when the Nuggets acquired him back in 2021. The only thing that stopped that from becoming a reality was time. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown were the ideal additions this offseason to complete the rotation, and Christian Braun even played 24 minutes in the most important game in his life.

The Denver Nuggets always had belief in each other, and that’s why they’re here. That’s why they’re champions.

From all of us here at Mile High Sports, thank you so much for reading our coverage. We do this for you, the fans, and are so happy to be the voice you go to for Nuggets news and analysis. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

What a year.