Heats vs. Nuggets: The Final Chapter
Nikola Jokić’s Denver Nuggets face Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat in the 2022-2023 NBA Finals.
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The long-awaited moment is finally here: the NBA finals. After a journey filled with painless sweeps and nail-biting Game 7s, the Denver Nuggets are set to face off against the Miami Heat in a series that goes far deeper than mere numbers. The Nuggets are going to the finals for the first time since joining the league in 1976, while the Heat have held on to become just the second team ever to make the Finals as an eight seed.
The Nuggets have shown why they are a force to be reckoned with throughout the season. They dominated their competition all year long, finishing at the top of the standings with an astounding record of 53 wins to 29 losses, especially when they looked like they had a tough road into the finals, having to play the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers boast plenty of experience––with 16 championships to their name––and plenty of star power, from Lebron James to Anthony Davis to rising star Austin Reaves. However, Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets swept their foes in what should’ve been a much closer series. Jokić was named Western Conference finals MVP after averaging 27 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 11.3 assists for the series. In Game 7 specifically, Jokić finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists to clinch the win for Denver. The “Joker” enters the finals with eight triple-doubles––an NBA record for a single postseason––and is the first player in history to average a triple-double through the first 15 games of a postseason.
After winning Game 1 of the finals, Jokić was asked about his dominance and humbly said, “Right now, the most important thing is to win the game, and I’m trying to win a game any way possible. I don’t need to shoot, and I know I don’t need to score to affect the game.” This win-it-all mentality demonstrates exactly what is needed from the former MVP to win his first title. He is the heart of the Denver Nuggets team and has set a clear example of what is demanded of this team.
Though Jokić has stolen the spotlight for the majority of the season, he has received ample support from his teammates, particularly Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon. These players have risen to the occasion when needed, with the most notable performances coming from point guard Murray. Murray averaged 20 points per game during the regular season, showing some unexpected consistency. During the postseason, however, Murray reached a new level, averaging about 28 points per game, with his most significant performances against the Lakers. Murray had three 30-plus performances during the sweep, solidifying his place as a player to watch out for during the finals and in the future.
Contrary to the Nuggets, the Heat had one of their tougher seasons this year, going 44-38 in the regular season. The Heat were almost out of contention, losing their first game in the play-in against the Atlanta Hawks, but won their second play-in game against the Chicago Bulls, thanks to a Max Strus wonder game. The Heat then went on to defeat a deflated Milwaukee Bucks team that was missing their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the backs of dominant performances from their stars. Jimmy Butler withered up a storm, averaging 38 points in the series, with the most notable performances being games four and five, where he dropped 56 and 42 points respectively, earning him the nickname “Jimmy Buckets,” which has carried on to the finals. However, critics had labeled the win over the Bucks as a fluke, as the Bucks Antetokounmpo was not present. Experts such as ESPN and NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith went so far as to say, “The [New York] Knicks should have it against the Heat. The Bucks just looked out of sync without Giannis. Take the ball out of Jimmy’s hands and that’s game.” Smith could not have been more incorrect; during Round 2, the Heat steamrolled the Knicks, winning the series 4-2 and showing what they are capable of in high-pressure situations. The dominance of this Heat squad came to life when they jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the star-studded Boston Celtics. History repeated itself, as Butler again slayed another beast of the East. Butler again starred in Boston with games of 35 and 27 points, with support from teammates Caleb Martin, Kyle Lowry, and Gabe Vincent. Butler has averaged a monstrous 29 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals this postseason, solidifying his place as a superstar. The Heat hit a final speed bump before entering the finals, as the Boston Celtics managed to win three on the trot. However, Butler and the Heat managed a blowout in game seven to take the momentum into the Finals to continue its underdog story.
For the Nuggets, it's important that their star player Jokić manages to do what he does best: everything. They need him to share the basketball, dominate the boards, and score with consistency. Murray and Porter Jr. have been shooting well throughout the postseason, with field goal percentages of 48 percent and 44 percent respectively. The Nuggets hold the home-court advantage over the Heat, which they will need to exploit, as they are undefeated at home in the playoffs, with a record of 9-0. The ball movement will play a major role in the game, as a faster pace of play will favor the bigger and stronger Nuggets team. The Nuggets will have to find an answer for Butler and the Heat guards, who have been shooting lights out. If the Nuggets are able to dominate through size and defensive presence, they are bound to win their first chip. Head Coach Michael Malone explained that the Heat will not be an easy team to beat, especially with the pressure of the finals. “You get to the NBA Finals, it's not about seeding anymore,” Malone said. “This is going to be the biggest challenge of our lives. This is the NBA Finals. You’re trying to win the first NBA championship in franchise history, and it’s going to be the hardest thing that we’ve ever done—which is the way it should be.”
For the Miami Heat, they have a roster that can explode on their given day. Butler will be the key for the team if the Heat are able to consistently deliver him the ball. Outside of Butler, however, the Heat have a lot of other players that pose considerable threats. Martin and Strus have starred in major moments during the postseason, with Martin performing against the Celtics and shooting 50 percent from the field. The bench for the Heat will be essential, as players such as Duncan Robinson will have to provide crucial minutes to keep up with the fast-scoring Nuggets. Bam Adebayo will play a pivotal role in the finals as he has to guard Jokić. The Heat will need every player on their roster to bring their best if they have any hopes of continuing their Cinderella story.
A strong case can be made for either team to win the finals, but the ball seems to lie in the Nuggets’ court right now. With that said, there’s a reason the games are played, so anything can happen now.