Nikola Jokic guided Denver to its first NBA title in team history on Monday night, as the Nuggets overcame dreadful shooting and a late flurry from Miami’s Jimmy Butler to squeeze past the Heat for a frantic 94-89 victory in Game 5.
Jokic had 28 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, and earned NBA Finals MVP honors — a trophy certainly more meaningful to him than the two overall MVPs he won in 2021 and ’22.
He bailed out the Nuggets, going 12 for 16 from the floor on a night when none of his teammates could find the basket. Denver missed 20 of its first 22 3-point attempts and seven of its first 13 free throws, yet somehow figured out how to close out the series on its home floor.
Butler scored eight straight points to help the Heat take an 87-86 lead with 2:45 left after trailing by seven. He made two more free throws with 1:58 remaining to help Miami regain a one-point lead. Then, Bruce Brown got an offensive rebound and tip-in to give the Nuggets the lead for good. Trailing by three with 15 seconds left, Butler jacked up a 3, but missed it. Brown made two free throws to put the game out of reach and clinch the title for Denver.
Butler finished with 21 points.
This was an ugly, frenetic affair, but the aftermath was something the Nuggets and their fans could all agree was beautiful. Denver is the home of the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in the franchise’s 47 years in the league.
“It was ugly and we couldn’t make shots, but at the end we figured it out,” Jokic said. “I am just happy we won the game.”
The Heat were, as coach Erik Spoelstra promised, a gritty, tenacious bunch. But their shooting wasn’t great, either. Bam Adebayo had 20 for the Heat, but Miami shot 34% from the floor and 25% from 3. Until Butler went off, he was 2 for 13 for eight points.
The Heat, who survived a loss in the play-in tournament and became only the second No. 8 seed to make it to the finals, insisted they weren’t into consolation prizes.
They played like they expected to win, and for a while during this game, which was settled more on the ground than in the air, it looked like they would.
The Nuggets, who came in shooting 37.6% from 3 for the series, shot 18% in this one. They committed 14 turnovers. They only went 13 for 23 from the line, though Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were 4 for 4 at the end while Denver was salting away the win.
With 2:51 left in the first quarter, Jokic got his second foul and joined Aaron Gordon on the bench.
The Nuggets were tentative on both sides of the court for the rest of the half. Somehow, after shooting 6.7% from 3 — the worst first half in the history of the finals (10-shot minimum) they only trailed by seven.