NBA Finals Review

    The Denver Nuggets won their first NBA championship. It was an exciting conclusion to one of the craziest NBA seasons I’ve ever witnessed. From multiple superstars changing teams to off-the-court controversies to a thrilling NBA playoff featuring deep runs from the most unexpected teams. This season gave everything fans could have wanted and then some. LeBron James broke the all-time scoring record, the Sacramento Kings broke a 16-year playoff drought and lit the beam, the Nets moved on from Kyrie and Durant to find a centerpiece in Mikal Bridges, and Joel Embiid won league MVP before the Sixers got knocked out by the Celtics in the second round. Both; New York and Los Angeles teams made the playoffs, as did most other big markets. The smaller market teams with somewhat less notable superstars were the teams that finished on top this year.

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    The Denver Nuggets were overlooked all year despite being the top seed in the Western Conference. They increased their intensity in the playoffs. They knocked off the Timberwolves in five games. Then the Durant and Booker-led Suns in six games. Nuggets swept the new-look Lakers. While the Western Conference had LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant, to name a few stars, the unheralded Nuggets were the ones to come out of the conference with their superstars as well as quality role players and a solid head coach in Michael Malone.

    Meanwhile, the Miami Heat barely snuck into the playoffs after knocking off the Bulls in the second play-in game after losing to the Hawks to fall to the eighth seed. Counted out by everybody, they stepped up big in the playoffs, overcoming injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo to upset teams with much shorter championship odds. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo led the Heat to an impressive five-game series win over the top-seeded Bucks before knocking off the upstart Knicks in six games and winning a thrilling seven-game series over the Celtics, in which the Heat got out to a 3-0 series lead before Boston came back to tie the series at 3-3. The Heat got contributions from their role players, with Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Caleb Martin being the players that stand out the most.

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    The Heat were able to stop the bleeding and blow out the Celtics in Boston to return to the NBA Finals, where they would run into a superior opponent who played up to their talent level, unlike several of the Eastern Conference contenders who fell apart against Miami. Erik Spoelstra has led the Heat to many NBA Finals in the past, but this year’s squad overcame all odds to become the second eight-seed ever to make the NBA Finals after having a mediocre regular season.

    In the NBA Finals, both Nuggets superstars showed out each game to lead Denver to their first championship. Nikola Jokic had some masterful performances, adding two more triple-doubles with a 41-point game in Game 2, which the Nuggets lost. He averaged 30.2 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists, wearing down the Miami Heat with his elite passing, soft touch around the rim, and even some efficient outside shooting, in which he finished with a 42.1% clip from 3-point range.

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    The offense ran through Jokic when he was on the court, and he played solid defense with several multi-block games en route to his first Bill Russell Finals MVP award. Jamal Murray returned to his 2020 NBA bubble form after sitting out two seasons with an ACL tear. He averaged 21.4 points, ten assists, and 38.7% from 3 on volume shooting from the outside. Murray and Jokic had a triple-double in a Game 3 win on the road in Miami.

    The Nuggets also had significant contributions from their role players, and it was a different unsung hero each game. Rookie Christian Braun had a 15-point Game 3, and Aaron Gordon led the team in scoring with 27 points in Game 4. Former Net Bruce Brown added 21 points off the bench to help the Nuggets secure a 3-1 series lead in Miami. Michael Porter Jr. added 16 points with 13 rebounds in Game 5, stepping up big-time when the Nuggets struggled to score points. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came off the bench, hitting some huge shots to win the series for the Nuggets. Even DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green got some minutes to provide some veteran experience and protect the paint when Nikola Jokic got into foul trouble early in what would turn out to be the final game of the NBA season.

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    The NBA Finals was a gauntlet, and after the Nuggets cruised to an 11-point win in Denver in Game 1, it was the Heat who answered back with a great shooting night and an answer for the Nuggets, storming back with stellar bench play to a Game 2 win on the road. From there on, the Nuggets had great performances from their superstars and bench alike to take Game 3 and Game 4 on the road. The Heat didn’t give up down 3-1 in Denver, and Game 5 was a defensive slugfest. Both the Heat and the Nuggets struggled from the field, and the Nuggets struggled from three-point range, going 5 for 28 or 17.9% from the outside.

    They also struggled from the charity stripe, making 13 out of 23 free throw attempts. Fortunately for Denver, the Heat had an ugly from the 3-point line, not doing much better at 25.7% and 34.4% from the field overall. The Nuggets were fortunate to win the last game with their poor shooting and 14 turnovers. The Heat also struggled to shoot the ball and had several turnovers themselves.

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    The Nuggets capitalized on the glass, outrebounding the Heat 46 to 33 and taking advantage of their size to outscore the Heat in the paint and convert on second-chance opportunities. The game seemed sloppy until the last few minutes when the intensity ramped. Jimmy Butler scored two threes to get the Heat within three points with a few minutes remaining but was unable to convert a tying three-point attempt, and the Heat fouled, where the Nuggets secured the win by cashing in their free throws to the delight of the home crowd.

    These NBA playoffs taught me a few things that not only apply to basketball but to life as well. First of all, with the exception of Game 5, despite the lack of big brands and all the hype that the Lakers and Celtics would have brought to the Finals, the basketball was very pure and pleasing to watch. The series still had its fair share of superstars, but role players were just as important in winning games for both teams. The team-oriented basketball and culture of the teams outweighed what any player did on the basketball court.

    Denver Nuggets complete sweep of Los Angeles Lakers to advance to NBA Finals for first time in franchise history | CNN

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    People overlooked the Nuggets all season, and the Heat were never taken seriously as the eight-seed. Yet the two teams that made it to the Finals and not the big-market super teams. It gives me hope for the future that players will coexist with each other. Rather than forcing trades and pairing up with superstars, leaving their old teams to figure things out. I also hope that fans appreciate basketball for the action on the court compared to the names on the jerseys. I expect the Nuggets and Heat to continue to prove their doubters wrong. They’ll make deep playoff runs again, if not make another NBA Finals appearance and possibly win another title.

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