NBA: Generous Nikola Jokic ‘picks Heat apart’ in Finals Game 1 win
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic knows how to let the game come to him — and the Denver Nuggets star wasn’t about to start forcing things on the biggest stage of all.
“I think that’s the beauty of Nikola,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after his team beat the Miami Heat 104-93 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
“I learned a long time ago the defense tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it.”
The Serbian star, who won league MVP honors in 2021 and 2022 but didn’t make it to the Finals until this season, didn’t attempt his first basket until the waning seconds of the first quarter.
"That's how I learned to play basketball…it's hard to guard when you don't know who's going to attack."
— NBA (@NBA) June 2, 2023
But he had 10 assists by halftime as Denver took control early against a Heat team that had won the opening game on the road in each of the previous three rounds.
“If they’re going to give him that kind of attention… he’s going to just pick you apart,” Malone said of Jokic, who kicked out to a teammate for an open three-pointer twice in the first half when the Heat had him covered in the post.
“Nikola never tries to impose his will or force things that aren’t there. He’s going to read the game. He’s going to make the right play. Most importantly he’s going to make every one of his teammates better.”
Jokic, who had just three shot attempts in the first half — and made all of them — would end up leading the Nuggets with 27 points, adding 10 rebounds and 14 assists in his 15th playoff triple double — his ninth of this post-season.
Teammate Jamal Murray added 26 points and 10 assists as five Denver players scored in double figures.
“One thing about Nikola is he takes great satisfaction in making plays for others,” Malone said. “He really does. I think he takes more joy in that.
“I don’t think he cares if he scored 27 points or not. He cares that we’re up 1-0.”
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