NBA Finals

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets cruise to Game 1 win over Heat


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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets cruise to Game 1 win over Heat

SHOWDOWN. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic looks to pass against Heat forward Jimmy Butler in Game 1.

Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

The Nuggets claim the series opener against the Heat without having to lean heavily on Nikola Jokic, even as he ended up leading the way

Nikola Jokic finished off another triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists and Jamal Murray scored 26 points and dished out 10 assists as the Denver Nuggets made a statement in their first ever NBA Finals game, rolling to a 104-93 victory against the visiting Miami Heat on Thursday, June 1 (Friday, June 2, Manila time).

Michael Porter Jr. added 14 points and 13 rebounds while Aaron Gordon had 16 points as the Nuggets won the series opener without having to lean heavily on Jokic, even as he ended up leading the way.

Jokic wound up 8-of-12 from the field after taking just five shots through three quarters. He extended his NBA single-year record with his ninth triple-double of the playoffs.

“Right now, the most important thing is to win a game and I’m trying to win a game in any possible way,” Jokic said on the ABC broadcast. “I don’t need to shoot and I know I don’t need to score to affect the game, and I think I did a good job today. Everybody contributed.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Sunday, June 4 in Denver (Monday, June 5, Manila time).

Denver, the Western Conference’s top seed, shot 59.5% from the field in the first half and 50.6% for the game while improving to 9-0 at home in the playoffs.

Bam Adebayo amassed 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Heat, but Jimmy Butler was held to 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference failed to win the opener of a series on the road for the first time in four tries.

“I reminded our group, if they didn’t know, that Miami went into Milwaukee (in the first round) and won Game 1,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “They went into the Garden in New York City (in the second round) and won Game 1. They won Game 1 up in Boston (in the Eastern Conference finals). So we did not want them coming in here, taking control of the series on our court.”

Gabe Vincent scored 19 points while Haywood Highsmith added 18 as the Heat shot 37.5% in the first half and 40.6% for the game. Miami was 2-of-2 from the free throw line, an NBA Finals record for least number of free throw attempts in a playoff game.

“They’re in a pretty good rhythm, especially in that first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Nuggets. “Our disposition, the efforts, the resolve in the second half was much better. But you get to this level, it has to be complete games of that disposition.”

Jokic was content to occupy the role of playmaker in the first quarter, not taking his first shot from the field until 3.3 seconds remained. He made the close-range shot as Denver took a 29-20 lead at the end of the opening period.

The Nuggets opened their first double-digit lead at 32-22 on a three-pointer by Murray with 10:31 remaining in the first half, and the hosts led 59-42 at halftime.

Denver grabbed its first lead of at least 20 points at 81-60 with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter on a pull-up jumper from Bruce Brown. The Nuggets went into the fourth quarter with an 84-63 advantage.

The Heat opened the final period on an 11-0 run to get within 84-74 with 9:29 remaining. The Nuggets seized control again to take a 90-74 lead with 7:16 left on a layup from Jokic and closed out the victory from there.

“I definitely think [the Nuggets] came out with a lot of physicality and we have to be able to match that,” said Butler, who insisted he was not affected by the effort expended to win the Eastern Conference finals in seven games. “They did their job on their home floor. You have to say that. But we will be ready, we will adjust and do things differently.” –

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