Denver Nuggets, featuring Canadian Jamal Murray, win 1st NBA championship

Denver Nuggets, featuring Canadian Jamal Murray, win 1st NBA championship

Confetti flying in Denver. The Nuggets sharing hugs while passing around the NBA championship trophy.

Those scenes that, for almost a half-century, seemed impossible, then more recently started feeling inevitable, finally turned into reality Monday night.

The Nuggets outlasted the Miami Heat 94-89 in an ugly, frantic Game 5 that did nothing to derail Nikola Jokić, who bailed out his teammates with 28 points and 16 rebounds on a night when nothing else seemed to work.

Jokić became the first player in history to lead the league in points (600), rebounds (269) and assists (190) in a single postseason. Not surprisingly, he won the Bill Russell trophy as the NBA Finals MVP — an award that certainly has more meaning to him than the two overall MVPs he won in 2021 and ’22 and the one that escaped him this year.

“We are not in it for ourselves, we are in it for the guy next to us,” Jokić said. “And that’s why this (means) even more.”

WATCH | Denver wins 1st title:

Jokić, Murray lead Nuggets past Heat to claim 1st NBA title in franchise history

Denver defeated Miami 94-89 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to capture their first championship in franchise history. Star centre Nikola Jokić scored a game-high 28 points and was named the NBA Finals MVP. Kitchener, Ont., native Jamal Murray recorded 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds and becomes the ninth Canadian to win an NBA title.

The Nuggets were powered throughout the playoffs by the dynamic duo of Jokić and Kitchener, Ont., native Jamal Murray.

“We had to get you one, coach.”

A mic’d up Jamal Murray celebrates the Nuggets’ championship win 🔊


The pair combined for 42 points in the title-clinching victory, and their consistently superlative play proved to be too much to handle in series wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Heat over the last two months of playoff action.

Jokić, the 28-year-old Serbian superstar, finished a historic run that saw him secure a record 10 triple-doubles, nearly averaging a triple-double per game, amassing averages of 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists.

Canadian icon

Murray, 26, is the ninth Canadian to win an NBA title, joining:

  1. Mike Smrek (Lakers: 1987, 1988)
  2. Bill Wennington (Chicago Bulls: 1996, 1997, 1998)
  3. Rick Fox (Lakers: 2000, 2001, 2002)
  4. Joel Anthony (Heat: 2012, 2013)
  5. Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs: 2014)
  6. Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers: 2016)
  7. Chris Boucher (Golden State Warriors: 2018; Toronto Raptors: 2019)
  8. Andrew Wiggins (Warriors: 2022)

A player with tears on his face opens his mouth to speak while being interviewed.

An emotional Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., is interviewed after winning his first NBA title on Monday in Denver. The Canadian averaged 26.1 points per game across the 2023 playoffs. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Wiggins’ 16.5 points per game was the highest total for a Canadian in a championship run before Murray averaged 26.1 across Denver’s 20 playoff games this year.

WATCH | Jamal Murray gets hometown love in Kitchener, Ont.:

Canadian NBA star Jamal Murray gets hometown love in Kitchener, Ont.

Fans in Canadian basketball star Jamal Murray’s hometown of Kitchener, Ont., are ecstatic as he and the Denver Nuggets drive for a historic NBA championship victory over the Miami Heat.

Murray — who missed the entire 2021/22 season with an ACL tear — now holds the top two spots for most points by a Canadian player in a playoff run with 522 in 2023 and 504 in 2020.

‘At the end we figured it out’

Denver’s clincher was a gruesome grind.

Butler made two more free throws with 1:58 remaining to help Miami regain a one-point lead. Then, Bruce Brown got an offensive rebound and tip-in to give the Nuggets the lead for good.

Trailing by three with 15 seconds left, Butler jacked up a 3, but missed it. Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made two free throws each to put the game out of reach and clinch the title for Denver.


KCP’s steal and free throws give Denver a 3-point lead with 24.7 seconds to go in Game 5 on ABC!


Butler finished with 21 points.

“Those last three or four minutes felt like a scene out of a movie,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Two teams in the centre of the ring throwing haymaker after haymaker, and it’s not necessarily shot making. It’s the efforts.”

Grueling as it was, the aftermath was something the Nuggets and their fans could all agree was beautiful. There were fireworks exploding outside Ball Arena at the final buzzer. Denver is the home of the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in the franchise’s 47 years in the league.

“The fans in this town are unbelievable,” said team owner Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Colorado Avalanche, the team that won its third Stanley Cup last year. “It means a lot to us to get this done.”

Heat’s run comes to an end

The Heat were, as coach Erik Spoelstra promised, a gritty, tenacious bunch. But their shooting wasn’t great, either. Bam Adebayo had 20 for the Heat, but Miami shot 34 per cent from the floor and 25 per cent from 3. Until Butler went off, he was 2 for 13 for eight points.

The Heat, who survived a loss in the play-in tournament and became only the second No. 8 seed to make it to the finals, insisted they weren’t into consolation prizes.

They played like they expected to win, and for a while during this game, which was settled as much by players diving onto the floor as sweet-looking jump shots, it looked like they would.

The Nuggets, who came in shooting 37.6 per cent from 3 for the series, shot 18 per cent in this one. They committed 14 turnovers. Even with the clutch shots from Brown and Caldwell-Pope, they only went 13 for 23 from the line.

It made the Nuggets tentative on both sides of the court for the rest of the half. Somehow, after shooting 6.7 per cent from 3 — the worst first half in the history of the finals (10-shot minimum) they only trailed by seven.

True to the Nuggets’ personality, they kept pressing, came at their opponent in waves and figured out how to win a game that went against their type. Their beautiful game turned into a slugfest, but they figured it out nonetheless.

“What I was most proud about is, throughout the game, if your offense is not working and your shots are not falling, you have to dig in on the defensive end,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Long road to 1st title for Denver

It felt almost perfect that an unheralded and once-chubby second-round draft pick from Serbia would be the one to lift Denver to the top of a league that, for decades, has been dominated by superstars, first-round draft picks and players who lead the world in sneaker and jersey sales.

Over their near five-decade stay in the league, the Nuggets have been the epitome of a lovable NBA backbencher — at times entertaining, adorned by rainbows on their uniforms and headlined by colourful characters on the floor and bench. But never quite good enough to break through against the biggest stars and better teams to the east, west and south of them.

“A joy for the Jokic family.” ♥

Nikola Jokic celebrates with his brothers after winning his and the franchise’s first #NBAFinals


Before this season, there were only two teams founded before 1980 — the Nuggets and Clippers — that had never been to an NBA Finals. The Nuggets took their name off that list, then joined San Antonio as the second original ABA team to capture the NBA’s biggest prize. The other two ABAers, the Pacers and Nets, have been to the finals but lost.

It was the Joker’s blossoming into a do-everything force — even before Monday, he was the first player to record 500 points, 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a single postseason — that made the Nuggets a team to watch. Not everybody did. A shift to winning couldn’t change Denver’s location on the map — in a weird time zone in flyover territory — and it didn’t shift everyone’s view of the Nuggets.

There’s little doubt that this has always been a Broncos-first sort of town. No single Denver victory will outshine the day in 1998 when John Elway broke through and that team’s owner, Pat Bowlen, held the Lombardi Trophy high and declared: “This one’s for John!”

But this one? It doesn’t take a back seat to much. It’s for every Dan (Issel), David (Thompson), Doug (Moe) or Dikembe (Mutombo) who ever came up short or got passed over for a newer, shinier model with more glitter and more stars.

For the first time in 47 seasons, nobody in the NBA shines brighter than the Nuggets.

“You live vicariously through these guys,” said Denver great LaPhonso Ellis, as he pointed to the big scoreboard announcing the Nuggets as champions. “And to see that there, `2023 NBA Champions’ here in Denver, that’s so cool, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.”

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