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Finally, Denver wins 1st NBA title

DENVER, CO - JUNE 12: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets is presented with the Bill Russell Finals MVP Trophy after Game Five of the 2023 NBA Finals on June 12, 2023 at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images/AFP (Photo by JOE MURPHY / NBAE / Getty Images / Getty Images via AFP)

The Denver Nuggets sealed their first title in franchise history on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), defeating the Miami Heat, 94-89, to end a 47-season wait for a maiden National Basketball Association championship.

Nikola Jokic scored 28 points with 16 rebounds as the Nuggets won the best-of-seven NBA Finals, 4-1, to bring the Mile High City an NBA crown as a sellout crowd roared in delight and pondered what more the young squad could achieve.

“I’ve got news for everybody out there. We’re not satisfied with one,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said afterwards.

“We want more.”

The championship filled the final gap in the impressive resume of Serbian star Jokic, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and five-time All-Star center in his eighth NBA campaign.

Two days after countryman Novak Djokovic won the French Open for his record 23rd Grand Slam tennis crown, Jokic was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.

“For us he’s the best ever, of course,” Jokic said of Djokovic.

“Now, we have our NBA championship. It’s a really good moment to be a Serbian.”

Jokic delivered on a night when the team struggled with early shooting futility but blanked Miami for more than five minutes of the fourth quarter.

“It was amazing effort by the team,” Jokic said.

“It was an ugly game. We couldn’t make shots. But at the end we figured it out, how to defend and we scored 90 points. That’s why we won. I’m just happy we won the game.”

“It’s good. The job is done and we can go home now.”

Michael Porter Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds and Jamal Murray added 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Nuggets.

“We had the belief from the get-go,” Murray said.

“It’s just great to see it through.”

“To do it with this group of guys, nothing could feel better than this,” Porter added.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 21 points while Bam Adebayo added 20 and 12 rebounds.

Denver was the playoff top seed in the Western Conference while the eighth-seeded Heat, who had to win a play-in game just to reach the playoffs, lost in the finals for the third time in 10 seasons.

“One hell of a basketball team that we couldn’t really find enough solutions to be able to get us over the top,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

With their seasons on the line, players brought intensity and physical defending over the final minutes to create an electric atmosphere inside Ball Arena.

The Nuggets, down by as many as 10 points in the first half, pulled within 51-44 at half-time despite going 1-for-15 from 3-point range, the worst-ever NBA Finals shooting half from beyond the arc.

A Murray jumper gave Denver an 81-76 lead with 6:43 remaining while the Heat began the fourth quarter hitting only 2-for-14 from the floor and going scoreless for more than five minutes.

Butler, who had struggled all night, sank back-to-back 3-pointers and made three free throws after a controversial foul on Denver’s Aaron Gordon was upheld on video review.

Butler and Jokic traded hoops and Butler followed with two free throws to give Miami an 89-88 lead.

Bruce Brown answered with a rebound basket to put Denver ahead, 90-89.

“Those last three or four minutes felt like a scene out of a movie,” Spoelstra said.

“Two teams in the center of the ring throwing haymaker after haymaker.”

“It will probably rank as our hardest, competitive, most active defensive game of the season, and it still fell short.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stole a pass by Butler and sank two clutch free throws with 24 seconds remaining to give Denver a 92-89 edge.

“For me it was all about defense,” Caldwell-Pope said.

“We’ve got to get stops. Defense was going to win us a championship. I always told them that.”

Butler missed a three-pointer, Brown grabbed a rebound for Denver and then made two free throws to seal the victory with 14 seconds remaining.

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