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Jokić-led Nuggets top Heat to win 1st NBA championship in franchise history

Confetti flies in Denver. The Nuggets hug as they pass around the NBA championship trophy.

Scenes that seemed impossible for nearly half a century, then only recently began to feel inevitable, finally became a reality Monday night.

The Nuggets beat the Miami Heat 94-89 in an ugly, frantic Game 5 that gave nothing to Nikola Jokic, who bailed out his teammates with 28 points and 16 rebounds on a night when nothing else seemed to go right.

Jokic became the first player in history to lead the league in points (600), rebounds (269) and assists (190) in a single postseason. It’s no surprise that he won the Bill Russell Trophy as the NBA Finals MVP, which certainly means more to him than the two overall MVPs he won in 2021 and ’22, and that which eluded him this year.

“We are not for ourselves, we are for the guy next to us,” said Jokic. “And that’s why this (means) more.”

WATCH |: Denver wins 1st title.

Jokic, Murray lead Nuggets past Heat to 1st NBA title in franchise history

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Denver defeated Miami 94-89 to win its first championship in franchise history. Star center Nikola Jokic scored 28 points and was named NBA Finals MVP. Kitchener, Ont., native Jamal Murray had 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds to become the ninth Canadian to win an NBA title.

The Nuggets were fueled by the dynamic duo of Jokic and Kitchener, Ont., native Jamal Murray throughout the playoffs.

The pair combined for 42 points in the title-clinching victory, and their consistently excellent play was too much to overcome in the series victories. Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and the Heat over the last two months of playoff action.

Serbian superstar Jokic, 28, ended a historic run that saw him secure a record 10 triple-doubles while averaging 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game.

Canadian icon

Murray, 26, is the ninth Canadian to win an NBA title, joining;

  1. Mike Smrek (Lakers: 1987, 1988)
  2. Bill Wennington (Chicago Bulls: 1996, 1997, 1998)
  3. Rick Fox (Lakers: 2000, 2001, 2002)
  4. Joel Anthony (Heat: 2012, 2013)
  5. Corey Joseph (San Antonio Spurs: 2014)
  6. Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers: 2016)
  7. Chris Boucher (Golden State Warriors: 2018; Toronto Raptors: 2019)
  8. Andrew Wiggins (Warriors: 2022)
During the interview, the tearful player opens his mouth to speak.
An emotional Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., was interviewed after winning his first NBA title in Denver on Monday. The Canadian averaged 26.1 points per game in the 2023 playoffs. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Wiggins’ 16.5 points per game were a league-high for a Canadian, while Murray averaged 26.1 points in 20 playoff games for Denver this year.

WATCH |: Jamal Murray is getting some hometown love in Kitchener, Ont.:

Canadian NBA star Jamal Murray falls in love in his hometown of Kitchener, Ont.

Canadian basketball star Jamal Murray has fans in his hometown of Kitchener in raptures as he and the Denver Nuggets push the Miami Heat to a historic NBA championship victory.

Murray, who missed the entire 2021/22 season with a torn ACL, now holds the top two spots for most playoff points by a Canadian player with 522 in 2023 and 504 in 2020.

“We finally figured it out”

Denver’s clincher was awful.

Unable to shake the stubborn Heat or last night’s upsets, the Nuggets missed 20 of their first 22 3-pointers. They missed seven of their first 13 free throws. They led by seven late before Miami’s Jimmy Butler came on to score eight straight points to give the Heat a one-point lead with 2:45 left.

Butler made two more free throws with 1:58 left to help Miami regain the one-point lead. Bruce Brown then got an offensive rebound and a tip-in to give the Nuggets the lead for good.

Trailing by three with 15 seconds left, Butler went up for a 3 but missed it. Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each made two free throws to put the game out of reach and clinch the title for Denver.

Butler finished with 21 points.

“The last three or four minutes seemed like a scene out of a movie,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Two teams in the center of the ring throwing haymaker after haymaker, and it’s not necessarily the shot preparation, it’s the effort.”

Brutal as it was, the aftermath was something the Nuggets and their fans could agree was beautiful. Fireworks were going off outside the Ball Arena at the final bell. Denver is home to the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in 47 years in the league.

“The fans in this town are unbelievable,” said team owner Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Colorado Avalanche, the team that won its third Stanley Cup last year. “It means a lot to us to do that.”

The Heat’s run is coming to an end

The Heat, as promised by coach Erik Spoelstra, were a gritty, tenacious group. But their shooting wasn’t great either. Bam Adebayo scored 20 for the Heat, but Miami shot 34 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3.

The Heat, who survived a playoff loss to become only the second No. 8 seed to reach the finals, insisted they were not in the consolation prize pool.

They played like they expected to win, and for a while during this game, which was flattened by players diving to the floor like sweet-looking jump shots, it looked like they would.

The Nuggets, who shot 37.6 percent for the series, shot 18 percent this series. They made 14 turnovers. Even with clutch hitting from Brown and Caldwell-Pope, they went just 13-for-23 from the line.

The game was set with 2:51 left in the first quarter when Jokic picked up his second foul and joined Aaron Gordon on the bench. They were also joined by Jeff Green and Murray, who finished with 14 points and eight assists for the night.

The rest of the half made the Nuggets testy on both ends of the court. Somehow, after shooting 6.7 percent from 3, the worst first half in Finals history (minimum 10 shots), they only trailed by 7.

True to the Nuggets’ personality, they kept up the pressure, pounded their opponent in waves, and figured out how to win the game against their type. Their beautiful game turned into a slugfest, but they came out on top nonetheless.

“The thing I was most proud of is that throughout the game, if your offense isn’t going and your shots aren’t falling, you’ve got to dig in on the defensive end,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Long road to 1st title for Denver

It seemed almost perfect that the unheralded and once chubby second-round pick out of Serbia would propel Denver to the top of a league dominated for decades by superstars, first-round draft picks and players who led the world in sneaker and jersey sales.

During their nearly five-decade stay in the league, the Nuggets have become the epitome of the NBA’s favorite quarterback, at times hilarious, adorned with rainbows on their uniforms and colorful characters titled on the floor and bench. But never good enough to break through against the biggest stars and better teams east, west and south of them.

Before this season, there were only two teams founded before 1980, the Nuggets and the Clippers, that had never been to the NBA Finals. The Nuggets removed their name from that list, then joined San Antonio as the second original ABA team to win the NBA’s biggest prize. The other two ABAs, the Pacers and Nets, made the Finals but lost.

It was Joker’s blossoming into a do-it-all force, even before Monday, when he became the first player to record 500 points, 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a season, that made the Nuggets a team to watch. Not everyone did. A victory pass may not change Denver’s place on the map in a strange time zone in flight territory, and it hasn’t changed everyone’s view of the Nuggets.

There’s no question this has always been a Broncos-first kind of town. No Denver victory will top the day in 1998 when John Elway broke through and owner Pat Bowlen held up the Lombardi Trophy and declared, “This is for John.”

But doesn’t this Backseat ask for much? That goes for every Dan (Isel), David (Thompson), Doug (Mo) or Dikembe (Mutombo) who ever got shorted or switched to a newer, shinier model with more glitter and more stars.

For the first time in 47 seasons, no one in the NBA is shining brighter than the Nuggets.

“You live vicariously through these guys,” Denver great Lafonso Ellis said as he pointed to the large scoreboard declaring the Nuggets the champions. “And to see that there, the 2023 NBA Champions here in Denver, it’s so cool and I’m honored to be a part of it.

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