The NBA Finals kicked off last night in Denver, and even without the big brands of the Celtics and the Lakers, we got to witness pure hoops and beautiful basketball. Despite the game lacking the hype of previous NBA Finals, it was very entertaining to watch as both the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets gave it their all in an attempt to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Miami Heat looked thoroughly outmatched from the jump to the final whistle for the first time in the playoffs.
After Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and a supporting cast of undrafted players stepped up and led the Heat to the NBA Finals, upsetting the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics historically, the 8th-seeded Heat looked like an underdog in this game. Bam Adebayo led the way with 26 points and 13 rebounds, with Gabe Vincent adding 19 points and Haywood Highsmith having 18. However, superstar Jimmy Butler only had 13 points and struggled to get to the rim in Game 1.
Photo Cred: LA Times
Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus all went cold from the 3-point line, combining for 6 points, a stark contrast from all three of them being red-hot from 3 against the Celtics, a huge reason they were able to hang on and make it to the NBA Finals in the first place. The Heat look to bounce back in Game 2 on Sunday night, and they may get a big boost from Tyler Herro, who looks to return to action after breaking his hand against the Bucks in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
It was business per usual for the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic became the second player to have a triple-double in his NBA Finals debut, following Jason Kidd of the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets in 2002. Jokic had a team-leading 27 points to go with 14 assists and ten rebounds, as he scored at will and found his teammates for open looks in the paint and from 3-point range. Jamal Murray continued his stellar play after returning from an ACL injury this season, scoring 26 points with ten assists. The Nuggets also got double-digit scoring contributions from forwards Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Bruce Brown, with 14, 16, and 10 points, respectively.
Photo Cred: The Denver Post
In the NBA Finals, both teams could benefit from making adjustments. The Heat could benefit from Tyler Herro’s presence, but their collection of stars and undrafted players coming up big could make this series competitive. Jimmy Butler’s drive and determination alone could swing the outcome of at least a few games, and one should expect him to have more impact in Game 2. Bam Adebayo was able to dominate Jokic in the paint with his athleticism, and if he keeps this level of play up, he could be a factor as well. The Heat generated a lot of open looks from a distance, but they went 13/39 for a measly 33.3%. Chances are more of these threes will go down in the next few games if the Heat keeps shooting them at a volume.
If they can keep cutting to the rim and get to the free-throw line more often after only having two attempts all night, there is no reason to think that the Heat cannot compete with the Nuggets. Never count out the Heat. The Nuggets can keep playing their version of team basketball, and their combination of unselfishness, determination, and superstars makes them a tough team to beat. One thing they can improve on themselves is their three-point shooting. Despite a comfortable win on their home court, the Nuggets shot the three-ball at an even worse clip than Miami, going 8 for 27 from 3, or 29.6%. That number is bound to rise and could benefit the Nuggets greatly as the series shifts to Miami.
Photo Cred: Fox Sports
Unlike other Eastern Conference contenders, most notably the Celtics and Sixers, Miami plays to their talent level, and then some, so do the Nuggets. Both teams play team basketball and have the determination and mental fortitude to win a championship, the Nuggets have a player like no other in Nikola Jokic, and pairing him with another healthy superstar in Jamal Murray and a supporting cast filled with great shooters and playmakers gives them the edge in this series. Based on the way the game went last night, I believe the Heat have met their match, and my series prediction remains that the Nuggets will win the NBA Finals in 6 games.