The Denver Nuggets are one win away from achieving something they have never done before: winning the NBA championship. After taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, the Nuggets have a chance to close out the series on Monday night at home and make history.
How the Nuggets got here
The Nuggets have been one of the most resilient and impressive teams in the playoffs, overcoming adversity and injuries to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1978. They have also made several comebacks from seemingly impossible situations, becoming the first team ever to erase two 3-1 deficits in the same postseason.
In the first round, they faced the Portland Trail Blazers, who had the MVP candidate Damian Lillard and a potent offense. The Nuggets lost the first game at home, but bounced back to win four of the next five games, with their star center Nikola Jokić leading the way with his dominant performance.
In the second round, they met the Phoenix Suns, who had the veteran point guard Chris Paul and a young core of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The Nuggets again lost the first game at home, but this time they rallied to win four straight games, with their guard Jamal Murray catching fire and scoring at will.
In the Western Conference finals, they faced the Los Angeles Lakers, who had the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and were considered the favorites to win it all. The Nuggets stunned the Lakers by winning the first two games on the road, with their rookie sensation Christian Braun stepping up and hitting clutch shots. The Lakers fought back to win two games of their own, but the Nuggets prevailed in Game 5 and Game 6, with Jokić and Murray both recording triple-doubles in Game 6.
How the Heat got here
The Miami Heat have been one of the most surprising and scrappy teams in the playoffs, defying expectations and proving doubters wrong. They have also shown a lot of heart and grit, overcoming injuries and fatigue to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 2014.
In the first round, they faced the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and a deep roster. The Heat shocked the Bucks by sweeping them in four games, with their leader Jimmy Butler playing like a superstar and their shooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson making it rain from beyond the arc.
In the second round, they met the Brooklyn Nets, who had a trio of stars in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. The Heat split the first two games on the road, but then lost two games at home as Durant put on a historic performance in Game 5. The Heat bounced back to win Game 6 on the road behind Butler’s triple-double, but fell short in Game 7 as Durant hit a game-tying shot at the end of regulation and Harden sealed it with a steal in overtime.
In the Eastern Conference finals, they faced the Atlanta Hawks, who had a young star in Trae Young and a balanced attack. The Heat won the first game at home behind Butler’s 40-point performance, but then lost three straight games as Young torched them with his scoring and playmaking. The Heat avoided elimination by winning Game 5 at home behind Herro’s 37-point performance off the bench, but couldn’t force a Game 7 as Young scored 48 points in Game 6.
How the finals have gone so far
The NBA finals have been a showcase of two contrasting styles: The Nuggets’ high-powered offense vs. The Heat’s stingy defense. The Nuggets have been able to score at will against the Heat’s zone defense, while the Heat have struggled to keep up with the Nuggets’ pace and ball movement.
In Game 1, Jokić scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as he dominated inside and outside against Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. Murray added 26 points and eight assists as he sliced through the Heat’s perimeter defense. Butler scored 23 points for the Heat, but it wasn’t enough as they lost 104-93.
In Game 2, Butler scored 35 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left as he carried the Heat to a 111-108 victory. Herro and Robinson combined for 39 points as they made 11 three-pointers. Jokić had 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Nuggets, but missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer.
In Game 3, Jokić and Murray made history by both recording triple-doubles in the same game. Jokić had 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, while Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Braun also chipped in with 18 points and hit four three-pointers. Butler scored 28 points for the Heat, but got little help from his teammates as they lost 109-94.
What to expect in Game 5
The Nuggets have a golden opportunity to clinch their first NBA title in front of their home crowd on Monday night. They have been playing with confidence and chemistry, and have been getting contributions from everyone on their roster. They will look to continue their offensive onslaught and exploit the Heat’s defensive weaknesses.
The Heat have their backs against the wall and need a miracle to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They have been playing with heart and hustle, but have been outmatched and outplayed by the Nuggets. They will need to find a way to slow down Jokić and Murray, and get more production from their supporting cast.
The Nuggets are the clear favorites to win Game 5 and the series, but the Heat are not going to give up without a fight. It will be a battle of wills and skills, and a test of character and resilience. History awaits the winner.