The Denver Nuggets won Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat without much difficulty, dominating both sides of the ball to take an easy win on both offense and defense.
Nikola Jokic led their success, continuing one of the great postseason runs ever with 27 points, 14 assists, ten rebounds, one block and one steal on 78.1% true shooting – becoming just the second player ever (after Jason Kidd) to rack up a triple-double in their debut Finals appearance (the other being Chris Paul).
Denver’s dominance in Game 1 can be broken down into three prongs: size. Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr are much bigger than their Miami counterparts when combined.
It was clear from just looking at the lineups that this game would be one of dominance for Joker and Gordon; when Gordon put up 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first quarter.
Denver’s sheer size presents an enormous obstacle for the Eastern Conference champions to overcome, but adding a two-man game between Murray and Jokic only heightens that difficulty.
Recall from last year’s Finals when Stephen Curry had an answer for every pick-and-roll coverage strategy deployed against him by Boston? Something similar transpired with Jokic and Murray in Game 1.
In Game 1, Miami could do little against Denver’s Jokic and Murray without receiving an immediate reply from them. To compensate for Denver’s offensive advantage, Michael Malone’s club typically provided only mid-tier defense during the regular season (14th in our adjusted defensive rating metric). To gain any ground on Denver offensively, Miami needed to fight fire with fire – something they usually did successfully during regular season play (14th).
But unfortunately for Miami, their offense was powerless to overcome prong No. 3: Denver’s defensive game plan. As they had done against Los Angeles Lakers, Denver chose to protect its paint as much as possible when faced with the Miami Heat offense.
As previously established, the Nuggets do not possess many effective paint protectors to safeguard their interior paintwork; to do this, they need to pack as many bodies into a restricted area as possible to defend the Nuggets. Jokic took this further by dropping into a deep drop to remain near the paint.
The spread is big enough to give me pause here, but the Nuggets are the better team and cause all kinds of matchup questions that the Heat will have a hard time answering. Take the Nuggets to cover.
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