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NBA Finals: 5 takeaways from Denver Nuggets Game 1 win over Miami Heat

The Denver Nuggets appeared championship ready. The Miami Heat appeared overmatched.

And so it goes. The Nuggets breezed through a 104-93 win over the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, which might spark an inevitable overreaction. Has this series ended before it even started?

Not necessarily. The Heat have overachieved as an eighth seed partly because of their resiliency and experiences. But the Nuggets showed in Game 1 that they can dominate in various ways.

Below are the five takeaways that led to the Nuggets’ Game 1 victory.

Denver Nuggets looked well-adjusted following long break

denver nuggets game 1 win over miami heat, nba finals
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The Nuggets provided clarity to that age-old question on whether a team will appear more rested or rusty in a new playoff series following a long recovery time. They significantly benefited from having nine days to rest and prepare following their win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on May 22.

The Nuggets looked refreshed. They came ready to play. They didn’t appear limited with any ailments.

In fairness, the Miami Heat didn’t exactly look tired. They are a well-conditioned team. They didn’t seem overwhelmed with the city’s altitude. They competed and appeared in rhythm after playing against Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday. Yet, the Nuggets exerted their pent-up energy to set the tone for the rest the game.

Denver Nuggets flexed their depth

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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Just like they have throughout the 2022-23 regular season and playoff run, the Nuggets don’t appear to have any weaknesses.

The Heat rightfully focused on Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who then just punished them with his ninth postseason triple double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. Denver guard Jamal Murray (26 points, 10 assists) then excelled with his own two-man game with Jokic, looking for his own shot and establishing a great floor game.

That spacing then allowed Aaron Gordon (16 points, six rebounds), Michael Porter Jr. (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Bruce Brown (10 points) to log double digits as well.

Related: Five things to watch in Denver Nuggets-Miami Heat series

The Miami Heat’s undrafted shooters went missing

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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After becoming a key part of the Heat’s fabric, the team’s undrafted shooters suddenly hit nothing but clanks.

Heat forward Caleb Martin (1-for-7 overall, 1-for-2 from deep), guard Max Strus (0-for-10 overall, 0-for-9 from 3) and forward Duncan Robinson (1-for-6, 1-for-5 from 3) collectively missed too many shots to leave Miami vulnerable. That marks a far cry from what Robinson (44.6%), Martin (43.8%) and Strus (35.9%) shot from distance earlier in the playoffs.

The silver lining about this development? The Heat mostly received quality looks. They all just missed open shots. The concerning part about this development? Miami missed out on potentially stealing Game 1 and leaving them with little margin for error elsewhere.

Murray-Jokic combo more effective than Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat
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The numbers tell part of the story. Jokic and Murray combined for 53 points on 19-for-34 shooting along with 24 assists. Adebayo (26 points on 13-for-25 shooting and 13 rebounds) and Butler (13 points on 6-for-14 shooting and seven rebounds) didn’t have the same exact one-two punch.

The context tells the rest of the story. Jokic and Murray are more interconnected with each other’s games than Adebayo and Butler are. No doubt, Adebayo and Butler don’t have the same two-man game because of their respective positions. Yet, their individual dominance or struggles also doesn’t have as much influence on the other player’s success. That makes it even more important for the Heat’s shooters to have better marksmanship in Game 2.

Related: Why the Denver Nuggets view Aaron Gordon as crucial piece to an NBA title

Aaron Gordon is an early X-factor

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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The Nuggets clearly have a size advantage over the Heat, which only have Adebayo as a definitive big man. That would be overwhelming enough to account for Jokic. Add Gordon into the mix, though, and he’s double the trouble.

Just like he has all season, Gordon filled in the gaps where Jokic needed help. That included putbacks, becoming an open man when Jokic faced double teams or offering additional help on defense.

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