Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Nuggets finish Heat in 5 games to win first NBA championship

By: Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer

DENVER — In the biggest fourth quarter in Denver Nuggets history, veteran center DeAndre Jordan had a message for star point guard Jamal Murray during a timeout.

“Go win this game,” Jordan said to Murray. “Twelve minutes, bro, and you in history.


Murray, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets heeded the call for history Monday night, coming up with championship-winning plays in the final minutes of Game 5 to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in the franchise’s 47 years in the league with a 94-89 win over the Miami Heat before an overjoyed Ball Arena.

Now that he and Jokic have a taste of their first title, Murray said that not only can they do this again, but he believes there are still more championships to come.

“I knew once we were healthy, we could do it,” Murray told ESPN in a champagne-soaked Nuggets locker room. “So this was long overdue.

“I think this is the first of many.”

Finally healthy and whole, Jokic and Murray proved to be a tandem that opponents could not contain this postseason. They are the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a single postseason.

Jokic completed an unstoppable and historic postseason run by scoring 10 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter en route to being named NBA Finals MVP. He made 12 of 16 shots in a game where scoring was at a premium. Jokic also had 16 rebounds and four assists as the Heat — like all the other Nuggets opponents this postseason — could not come up with any solutions for slowing down the two-time regular-season MVP.

Jokic is the first player to lead all players in points (600), rebounds (279) and assists (190) in a single postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“The job is done, and we can go home now,” Jokic said of winning an NBA title.

Jokic said he had a different feeling about this Nuggets team from the first day of training camp in San Diego. He was right. The Nuggets had the makeup of a championship team that could adapt to any obstacle or defense in front of them.

In Game 5, the Nuggets missed 23 of 28 3-point shots. They trailed by 10 in the first half but erased the deficit with plenty of help.

After scoring a total of 18 points in the previous three games and shooting just 3-for-22 from behind the arc in the Finals, Michael Porter Jr. finally found his game, contributing 16 points and 13 rebounds. And it could not have come at a better time, as the Heat made everything a struggle for the Nuggets in the first half. Porter scored seven points in a pivotal third quarter that helped Denver get back into the game.

Murray made only 6 of 15 shots and had 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. But he opened the fourth quarter assisting Jokic on a basket inside before burying a 3. He found Jokic again for another score inside before hitting a pull-up jumper. When Murray assisted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a 3 with 4:06 left, the Nuggets could sense a championship by going up seven.

But Jimmy Butler mounted one final Heat comeback. He answered with a second straight 3-pointer followed by three free throws and then a 10-foot jumper that gave Miami an 87-86 advantage with 2:47 remaining.

Murray found Jokic again for a finger roll. After Butler made two more free throws to give Miami its last lead at 89-88, Bruce Brown, a difference-making offseason acquisition, converted a Murray miss to put the Nuggets ahead.

Butler picked up his dribble inside the paint and tried to pass out — only to throw it to Caldwell-Pope, another key addition to Nuggets because of his championship experience with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Caldwell-Pope made two free throws to put the Nuggets up three with 24.7 seconds left. Butler tried one final time to save the Heat’s season, but his 3 ricocheted off the rim and into Brown’s hands to start the Mile High City celebration.

“Pat Riley said something many years ago,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I used to have it up on my board when I was a head coach in Sacramento, and I talked about the evolution in this game and how you go from a nobody to an upstart, and you go from an upstart to a winner, and a winner to a contender, and a contender to a champion, and the last step after a champion, is to be a dynasty.

“So we’re not satisfied. We accomplished something this franchise has never done before, but we have a lot of young talented players in that locker room, and I think we just showed through 16 playoff wins what we’re capable of on the biggest stage in the world.”

As has been the case in these Finals, the Nuggets were more than just Jokic and Murray. Besides Caldwell-Pope’s big steal and Brown’s massive putback, Aaron Gordon delivered an emphatic block on a Kyle Lowry jumper with 6:58 to go.

This night was a culmination of incredible patience by the Nuggets franchise: building around Jokic and Murray with acquisitions like Gordon and Caldwell-Pope; waiting for Murray and Porter to recover from serious knee and back injuries, respectively, that kept them out for extended periods over the previous two seasons; and not making significant changes to the coaching staff or personnel.

The Nuggets might have gotten here the boring and patient way, but they are sitting on the mountaintop after refusing to make knee-jerk reactions like other franchises did when things didn’t go their way.

“It’s exciting to win a championship,” Nuggets president/governor Josh Kroenke said in the locker room as players sprayed champagne. “They can keep calling us boring. We’ll keep winning.

“We came about this very organically and we grew this thing from scratch. So I always said when we are here, we want to be here to stay for a little while and be in the conversation … but I think this team is going to be in the championship conversation for quite some time.”

The Nuggets could lose Brown in free agency, but their championship starting five is under contract through at least 2024-25.

During the chaos of the championship celebration, Jokic dragged Murray into the training room and shoved the point guard into a pool. Jokic followed him in.

Murray said he is ready to take the championship plunge once again.

“We clearly can do it,” Murray told ESPN. “So let’s do it again.”

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