THE Golden State Warriors have dominated the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals over the last five years with consecutive Finals appearances that have made them as memorable in the modern era as Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics was in the 60s.
But this NBA Finals between the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat seems to be most intriguing and interesting because of its unique storyline. This is the Miami Heat’s seventh Finals appearance. This is the Nuggets’ first ever NBA Finals appearance in their 47 years of existence.
Miami has converted three of their seven finals trips into actual championships in 2006, 2012 and 2013. The closest Denver ever got to dream with basis about the Larry O’Brien trophy was in April 2022 when they faced Golden State in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver played solid and consistent all throughout the regular season. They were focused and resolute. They ruled the playoffs like kings and eliminated their usual nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers, in a second round sweep.
Miami had to catch the last bus as chance passenger to get to where they’re at. They had to claw their way out of the play-in and bravely compete in the next stages. Look at the calibre of the teams they disposed of one after the other in the various rounds of the playoffs. Remarkable for an eighth-seed that has come to shock the NBA world!
To be truthful, both teams have been very impressive so far. Denver glittered like gold in Game 1, with two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic breaking an NBA Finals record set by Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell in Game 2 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jokic dished out 14 dimes that night, one better than Number 6. It’s the highest single-game assist total made by a center in the NBA Finals. In Game 1, all the nuggets of Denver—Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, Michael Porter Jr.—were golden. That night, one pundit said, Miami really played like an eighth seed.
But came Game 2. And there, Miami showed its character and what it’s truly made of. Not just Jimmy Butler, not just Bam Adebayo, but all the glorious undrafted cast of the Heat made the temperature unbearable for Denver right there in Mile-High City.
Some said it was superb coaching, which it is. Erik Spoelstra is the modern-day Phil Jackson and the generational coaching talent who is in the spotlight these days. How he has chosen, motivated and gotten the most out of his bunch of undrafted pieces like Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Haywood Highsmith—is pure King Leonidas to his 300 Spartans.
Beyond Spoelstra, however, some say the undrafted few who have become the Heat’s secret weapon are divinely inspired to play their best out of revenge for the snub they got on draft night.
One thing’s sure. People will never look at undrafted players the same way again if the Heat do get to win their fourth title.
Just what did the Heat do right to make it wrong for the Nuggets in Game 2? If GSW head coach Steve Kerr is to be believed, he said the Heat decided to focus on Jamal Murray instead of Nikola Jokic. To them, Murray, not Jokic, was “the head of the snake.” Stop Murray and the whole Nuggets game plan crumbles. And it’s true. Denver looked disoriented in the last minutes, as the Heat rained three point shots upon three point shots on them.
Murray himself could not really be stopped—as he still got away with 18 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and only one turnover. But the Heat really did turn on the heat in the fourth quarter. And that’s what melted the Nuggets’ gold.
At this point we still have a long way to go. The 2023 NBA Finals is tied at 1-1 and there are potentially five more games to be played. Game 3 will be in Miami, so it will be interesting what Denver will do as visiting conquistador.
The Nuggets are still favored to win it all over the Heat, by the way. But what the Heat love most is making predictions fall flat on their face.