DENVER: The Denver Nuggets launched their first NBA Finals campaign in franchise history with a dominant 104-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Thursday, propelled by yet another Nikola Jokic triple double.
Two-time Most Valuable Player Jokic scored 27 points with 10 rebounds and 14 assists to lead the Nuggets, who will try to double their advantage in the best-of-seven series when they host Game 2 on Sunday.
Jamal Murray scored 26 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed six rebounds for the Nuggets, who led by 24 points in the third quarter and repelled the resilient Heat’s fourth quarter challenge.
“We respect their team a lot,” Jokic said. “We just wanted to get the first punch.
“In the first three rounds they won their first game when they traveled on the road and we didn’t want to have that to happen. I think we did a good job.”
Bam Adebayo scored 26 points to lead Miami. Gabe Vincent added 19 and Haywood Highsmith scored 18 off the bench, but Heat star Jimmy Butler was limited to 13.
Trailing by 21 entering the fourth quarter, Miami used an 11-0 run to cut the deficit to 10. Highsmith’s three-pointer got the gap to nine points with 2:34 to play.
But as they had all night, the Nuggets seamlessly pulled away.
Jokic fed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a jump shot, Caldwell-Pope came up with a steal and Aaron Gordon made two free throws as the Nuggets rebuilt the lead.
Jokic added a pair of free throws and a turnaround jump shot and the ecstatic crowd of 19,528 at Ball Arena in Denver could start the celebrations.
“Everybody contributed,” Jokic said. “It’s a great win for us.”
Jokic was content to play facilitator in the first quarter, handing out six assists as the Nuggets clicked quickly despite the 10-day gap since they finished off their sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Gordon scored 12 points in the first quarter. Jokic didn’t take a shot until the waning seconds of the period, when he stripped the ball from Cody Zeller and made a layup that put Denver up 29-20 at the end of the period.
Meanwhile the Heat, who flew straight to Denver from Boston after finally polishing off the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday, connected on just nine of their 26 attempts in the first quarter.
“They are in a pretty good rhythm, especially in that first half, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our disposition, the multiple efforts, the resolve in the second half was much better.
“But you get to this level, it has to be complete games of that kind of disposition.”
Denver kept up the relentless pace in the second quarter, Murray scoring 10 points in the period as the Nuggets connected on 60 percent of their shots.
Four Denver players scored in double figures in the first half. Adebayo had 16 before the break for Miami, but Caleb Martin went 0-for-5 and Max Strus 0-for-7.
Not only were the Heat unable to convert the good looks they had, they couldn’t stop the Nuggets inside. Denver outscored Miami 32-18 in the paint in the first half.
Jokic’s 10 points and 10 assists before the break made him the only player besides LeBron James in the past 25 years to reach double digits in both categories in any half of an NBA Finals game.
He’d post his 15th playoff triple double with his 10th rebound in the fourth quarter.
The Heat quickly sliced the deficit to 10 points to open the third quarter, but Denver had the answer to every adjustment they made.
“Right now the most important thing is to win a game,” Jokic said. “We’re trying to win a game any way possible. I don’t need to shoot, I don’t need to score to affect the game. I think I did a good job today.