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NBA Finals: Takeaways from Denver Nuggets title-clinching Game 5 win

With a 94-89 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, the Denver Nuggets secured their first NBA championship in franchise history. They did so by showcasing the qualities that ensured them the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

They leaned on a two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic. They depended on their depth. And they showcased resiliency.

Below are five major takeaways from the Nuggets’ Game 5 victory over the Heat.

Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat competed in an ugly game

denver nuggets, miami heat game 5 nba finals takeaways
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For most of the game, both teams played tight and sloppy for perhaps different reasons. The Nuggets felt the pressure with wanting to win their first NBA title in franchise history on their home floor as well as avoid a Game 6 in Miami. The Heat felt the pressure with extending the series in an elimination game.

Neither team shot well. Denver went 38-for-54 from the field (45.2%) but went only 5-for-28 from 3-point range (17.9%) and 13-for-23 from the free-throw line (56.5%). Miami shot only 33-for-96 overall (34.4%) and 9-for-35 from deep (25.7%) but went 14-for-16 at the free-throw line (87.5%). The Nuggets showed hustle on the boards (57-44), but they lacked discipline with their ball handling (14 turnovers).

Denver threw the first punch by starting the game off on a 12-0 run, while Miami missed its first 10 shots. Then, the Heat closed the gap by going on an 11-2 run. The Nuggets had committed 10 turnovers and shot only 6.7% from deep, yet they only trailed by seven at halftime. Denver and Miami kept exchanging either baskets or missed shots throughout the second half. But ultimately, the Nuggets held on because they didn’t go through such erratic ups and downs as Miami did.

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Jimmy Butler experienced plenty of ups and downs in Game 5

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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The Heat’s star didn’t exactly have the “Jimmy Buckets” game that they needed to extend the series. Butler finished with 21 points while shooting only 5-for-15 from the field.

After scoring only eight points on a 2-for-11 clip through three quarters, Butler showed signs he could prevail in crunch time. He fueled the Heat’s late-game comeback. With the Heat facing a seven-point deficit, Butler scored eight unanswered points to give Miami an 87-86 lead with 2:45 remaining. That included Butler wrongfully awarded a foul call after kicking out his leg on Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon, which resulted in Butler making three foul shots.

But with the Denver Nuggets holding a 90-89 lead with 27.1 seconds left, Butler drove to the basket only to make a questionable decision. Instead of attacking Denver’s defenders for a possible basket and foul, Butler stopped and threw a pass that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope intercepted. After Caldwell-Pope made two foul shots for a 92-89 cushion 24.1 seconds left, Butler then forced a contested 3 that fell short.

Nikola Jokic survived early foul trouble

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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For the second consecutive game, Jokic and the Nuggets overcame his foul issues. The Nuggets survived the fourth quarter in Game 4 after Jokic was called for his fifth foul. In Game 5, Jokic collected two fouls in the first quarter.

It didn’t matter. Jokic still finished with 28 points on 12-for-16 shooting and 16 rebounds. He became vocal with his teammates in the third quarter while Denver weathered the Heat’s aggressiveness. Though he didn’t take his first shot until midway through the first quarter, Jokic maintained his aggressiveness through the rest of the game.

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The Miami Heat’s shooters were a no show

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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Once again, Heat center Bam Adebayo showcased his offensive growth (20 points and 12 rebounds). Once again, he didn’t have the needed help from the team’s shooters. Sure, Kyle Lowry added 12 points and tried baiting the Nuggets into silly fouls. Caleb Martin added 10 points.

But the Heat’s normally reliable 3-point shooters failed to hit shots consistently for the fourth time out of five Finals games, including Max Strus (12 points on 5-for-12 shooting), Gabe Vincent (six points on a 3-for-13 clip) and Duncan Robinson (5 five points on 2-for-6).

Maybe it’s not fair to scrutinize role players in high-stakes playoff games. The team’s stars have to shoulder that responsibility. Some might also wonder why Tyler Herro didn’t play after finally being cleared from a right-hand injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs. Or why Cody Zeller even played a single minute in an elimination game. Yet, the Heat’s other reliable shooters practically could have provided more answers than a rusty Herro. With Adebayo’s value mostly residing on the defensive end, the Heat needed more consistent shooting to make up for Butler’s struggles.

Michael Porter Jr. had a breakout game for the Denver Nuggets

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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Porter finally shed his Finals-long struggles in the Nugget’s most pivotal game. He posted 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Nuggets lacked the usual offensive punch from Jamal Murray (14 points on 6-for-15 shooting) and Gordon (four points on 1-for-6 clip).

The Nuggets could absorb Porter’s earlier struggles because of Jokic’s brilliance, Murray’s stellar play and their depth elsewhere. But at some point, Denver would need Porter to elevate his game in case the other parts of their well-run machine broke down. That moment came at the perfect time.

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