“Go win this game,” Jordan was heard saying on the broadcast. “Twelve minutes bro and you in history.
Murray, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets heeded the call for history, doing what they have done this entire magical postseason and adapting to any obstacle or defensive wrinkle thrown their way.
After opening Monday night’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals missing an abysmal 20 of their first 22 3-point attempts, the Nuggets came up with championship-winning plays in the final minutes.
From Jokic’s basket inside with 2:24 left to Bruce Brown‘s putback with 1:31 to go, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s steal off a Jimmy Butler pass with 27.1 seconds left, the Nuggets came up with all the big plays to win their first-ever NBA championship with a hard-fought 94-89 win over the Miami Heat at an overjoyed Ball Arena.
“I got news for everyone out there,” Denver coach Michael Malone said on the championship podium. “We are not satisfied with one!”
Jokic completed an unstoppable postseason by scoring 19 of his 28 points in the second half to go with 16 rebounds and four assists and won Finals MVP honors. Jokic immediately went to shake hands with Heat players after the buzzer sounded.
His two-man partner Murray also came up with some big baskets late, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the second half to go with 8 assists and 8 rebounds.
And 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, delivering 16 points and 13 rebounds. And it could not have come at a better time when the Heat made everything a struggle for the Nuggets in the first half.
And as has been the case in these Finals, the Nuggets were more than just Jokic and Murray. Aaron Gordon delivered an emphatic block on a Kyle Lowry jumper with 6:58 to go and the Nuggets up three that defined how Denver was going to do whatever it took to deny Miami a season-saving win.
Then Caldwell-Pope buried just the team’s fourth triple of the night to give the Nuggets an 86-79 lead with 4:06 left.
But Butler and the Heat would erase that deficit with one final run. Later down one with a chance to make a go-ahead basket, Butler picked up his dribble inside and looked for someone to pass to. He threw the ball to Caldwell-Pope, the Nugget who brought championship experience with him from this Lakers day.
Caldwell-Pope would hit two free throws to push the lead to 92-89.
Butler tried one final time to save the Heat season but his 3 ricocheted off the rim and into Brown’s hands to start the Mile High City celebration.
This night was a culmination of incredible patience by the Nuggets franchise, building around Jokic and Murray, waiting for Murray and Porter to recover from serious knee and back injuries respectively that kept them out for extended periods the past two seasons and not making significant changes to the coaching staff or personnel.
“I feel really fortunate that our journey has been one of patience, one of drafting really well and developing those players,” Malone said. “And then adding the right pieces around them.
“Everybody does it differently. Some teams want to mortgage their future and go get the surefire player, the All-Star. For us, there’s never been a rushed mentality. That starts with the ownership. The Kroenke family has been phenomenal since day one allowing this thing to play itself out and not overreacting to other bumps in the road. I think there are other teams in this league that are looking at how we have done it, smaller-market teams, how we’ve done it. I think more teams will try to kind of make this a blueprint.”
For Jokic, this championship stamps his status as the best player in the NBA. After winning two regular-season MVP’s, there was still doubt in some corners about whether he is the best player in the game.
But Jokic finished the postseason with a combined 52.9 points, rebounds and assists per game, second-most in NBA history according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“It’s long before we made it here that I thought this was going to happen,” said Murray, who missed the two previous postseasons with an ACL injury. “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.”