The Denver Nuggets, in their first NBA Finals game in franchise history, did not let the moment bother them. The Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 104-93 in Game 1 to strike first in the series, amping up defensively and making enough plays offensively to keep the Heat at bay.

Nikola Jokić started the game slow as a scorer but consistently found opportunities to set up his teammates, notching six assists in the first quarter and 10 in the first half. When he had to score, Jokić scored in the fourth quarter, taking over as a zone buster and finishing the game with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists.

“That’s the beauty of Nikola,” Michael Malone shared postgame. “I learned a long time ago that the defense tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it.”

Those 14 assists are actually an NBA Finals record for a center, the previous high being set by Bill Russell with 13 assists back in 1969.

The Nuggets were given a great opportunity to attack the paint in the first quarter with player other than Jokić, using Miami’s lack of size in their starting lineup against them. 18 of Denver’s first 24 points were scored in the paint, and though the Nuggets finished with only 46 points in the paint as a team, they established that presence early enough to separate themselves.

After that, both teams settled in and played with intensity, but it was the Nuggets who went on runs when they had to. They answered the call, over and over again. The Heat made things a bit nerve-wracking in the middle of the fourth quarter with some impressive zone defense, but the Nuggets responded every time, with Jokić delivering the final touches in the post against Bam Adebayo in the fourth quarter.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets NBA Finals Matchup with the Heat in Game 1:

The Nuggets are bigger at every position

Much has been made of the matchup between Nikola Jokić and Bam Adebayo, but the Nuggets are actually a much bigger team at every position of the starting lineup. Michael Porter Jr. (6’10”) and Aaron Gordon (6’8″) are guys that have matchup advantages on the interior, and that was evident early. Gordon dominated in the post and on drives/cuts, scoring 12 points in the first quarter alone exclusively at the rim. Porter made his size and physical presence known on the defensive end, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and making life difficult for Miami’s smaller players around the rim. This may have been Porter’s best defensive game of the playoffs, and he saved it for a great time. Jimmy Butler and the Heat sought him out in isolations and pick and rolls trying to attack a perceived weakness, and Porter shut that down entirely.

“You’ve got to play to your advantages this time of year,” Aaron Gordon shared postgame about Denver’s size advantage in the frontcourt.

The Heat, in deciding to start the game small, opened themselves up to mismatch opportunities down low on the other end. After Caleb Martin’s performance in the playoffs, there’s no doubt that Miami wanted to see whether they could replicate their success. They didn’t, and that could factor into a starting lineup change in Game 2.

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray were ready for this moment

The two players that appeared the least bothered by the moment of these NBA Finals were Jokić and Murray. Jokić didn’t force any shots to begin this game and simply made the right reads from the top of the key and the free throw line. Murray found plenty of opportunities under the basket on cuts to the rim, curling around screens set by Aaron Gordon and back cutting consistently.

“Just fluent, beautiful basketball,” Jamal Murray said of the actions they were running to generate open baskets. “Just making reads on the court, and I think that’s what the beauty of this team is…free flowing and a lot of fun.”

Jokić attempted just three shots in the first half and five shots through three quarters, but it didn’t matter with the way he was dicing up the Heat defense consistently. He had 10 assists by the first half, and the Nuggets didn’t need the scoring until the fourth quarter with everybody else hitting shots. Aaron Gordon setting the tone early allowed the Nuggets to settle in, and when they got comfortable, they never relinquished control. Any time the Heat made a run, the Nuggets responded with a run of their own.

Murray was instrumental with 26 points and 10 assists, setting the table for himself and others throughout the evening. He and the Nuggets believe in their style of play, and it was on full display as Jokić (14 assists) and Murray took turns dropping dimes against a feisty Heat defense.

Denver was clearly prepared, and while they appeared a bit rusty at times, Jokić and Murray always calmed things down and got them where they needed to go.

The Heat are due for some shooting regression

There’s little way around it: allowing 93 points is a really good thing. The Heat made things difficult for Denver in a variety of ways offensively, but the Nuggets returned the favor on the other end. Denver funneled the ball into the middle of the floor with Bam Adebayo, allowing him to take floaters and jump shots as often as he pleased, knowing how those only ever counted for two points. Adebayo was great individually, going for 26 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, but he shot 13-of-25 from the field, a number that the Nuggets will certainly live with.

The Nuggets also did a great job of collapsing in the paint, allowing just 38 points in the paint in Game 1. The Heat only notched TWO free throw attempts the entire game, and the Nuggets did a fantastic job of showing their hands, defending without fouling, and coaxing the Heat away from the rim whenever possible.

Jimmy Butler wasn’t at his most aggressive or effective either, scoring just 13 points on 6-of-14 from the field. He had seven rebounds and seven assists because he can make an impact outside of his scoring, but he simply didn’t take or make enough shots for the Heat to seriously challenge Denver at the end. Aaron Gordon did a great job against Butler, but the entire team can take credit in their switching and helping defense.

On the evening, the Heat shot 33.3% from three-point range, making 13-of-39 threes with many of those coming in the second half. The Heat started out in a shooting slump, and it wasn’t until the late third and fourth quarter that they ultimately broke out of it. After shooting an incredibly high percentage in these playoffs so far, the Heat came back down to earth tonight. That will likely change in Game 2 as they grow more accustomed to the Denver altitude. The fact that they couldn’t take advantage of the fact that the Nuggets scored just 104 points is a bad sign for the Heat though.

The Nuggets did their job. They move to 1-0 in the series in their quest for the first championship in franchise history. Tonight, the festivities were grand, and the players clearly felt the weight of what this experience meant for themselves, coaches, the organization, and the fan base.

Game 2 will likely take on a completely different feel from Game 1. Perhaps the Heat will be better prepared for the altitude and shoot a better percentage. Perhaps Porter will also hit more outside shots going forward.

Whatever happens though, the Nuggets got the first one. They did what they had to do. Now, they’ve gotta do it again.

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