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Denver Nuggets win NBA Finals for first title

DENVER (AFP) – The Denver Nuggets sealed their first title in franchise history on Monday, defeating the Miami Heat 94-89 to end a 47-season wait for a maiden NBA 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 (MVP) and five-time All-Star centre 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 MVP.

The Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic drives to the basket at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, United States. PHOTO: AFP

“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.

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 three-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 three-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 centre 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 defence,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’ve got to get stops. Defence 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.