The Denver Nuggets beat the Miami Heat 94-89 on Monday night to win their first NBA championship after 47 years in the league.
Led by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets overcame a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to close out the series 4-1. The Heat threatened to make a comeback of their own in the final minutes before a costly turnover by Miami star Jimmy Butler gave Denver crucial free throws.
“The job is done, we can go home now,” said Jokić, who finished the game with 28 points and 16 rebounds, in an on-court interview after clinching the title. He was also named the finals MVP after averaging 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists across the series. The Serbian All-Star, who was a second-round pick in the 2014 draft, also became the lowest drafted player to win a finals MVP. Denver’s title catapults him into the conversation as one of the all-time great NBA centers.
His teammate Jamal Murray was also superb: he averaged 21.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 10.0 assists a game in the finals after missing the entire 2021-22 season with a torn ACL.
“It’s long before we made it here that I thought this was going to happen,” said Murray. “I had a belief of being in the playoffs before, having the experience, seeing the team and the chemistry grow, having the same core my whole career, that’s when I saw it. That’s when I believed it.
“To be here just kind of rounds it out and shows that when we are given the right circumstances and everybody healthy, God willing, we can do it. I think when we’re playing our best basketball, we are a very hard team to stop.”
It was far from a vintage Nuggets performance in Game 5. They missed 20 of their first 22 three-point attempts and seven of their first 13 free throws before outscoring the Heat by 12 points in the second half. The Heat’s radar was off too: they shot 34% from the floor and 25% from three.
Butler scored eight straight points to help the Heat take an 87-86 lead with 2:45 left in the game after his team had trailed by seven. He made two more free throws with 1:58 remaining to help Miami regain a one-point lead. Then Bruce Brown got an offensive rebound and tip-in to give the Nuggets the lead for good. Trailing by three with 15 seconds left, Butler jacked up a three-point attempt, but missed. Brown made two free throws to put the game out of reach and bring the title to Denver for the first time.
“It was and ugly and we couldn’t make shots, but at the end we figured it out,” Jokić said. “I am just happy we won the game.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone immediately set his sights on his young core – Murray is 26, Jokić 28, Michael Porter Jr 24 and Aaron Gordon 27 – winning more titles. “I got news for everyone out there,” Malone said as he stood on the championship podium. “We are not satisfied with one.”
Denver had looked like champions for much of the season, and qualified for the playoffs as the No 1 seed in the Western Conference. That was in contrast to the upstart Heat, who overcame the odds to qualify for the NBA finals as a No 8 seed.
“You have to tip your hat to [Denver],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “I said it, but they are one hell of a basketball team. They play the right way, they compete, they are well-coached and they have a strong culture. So for this season, they deserve this.”
Denver’s win leaves Phoenix, Utah, Brooklyn, Orlando, Indiana, Charlotte, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Clippers as the 10 current franchises still waiting for a first NBA championship.