The Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat emerge as the last two teams standing in the 2023 NBA playoffs. Both squads have displayed remarkable resilience and skill, overcoming formidable opponents en route to the pinnacle of professional basketball, the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Let’s delve into the events that unfolded during their playoff runs, leading the two teams to the highly anticipated championship series that begin early on June 2nd.
Led by the dynamic duo of Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets have been a force to be reckoned with throughout the playoffs, leaving a trail of defeated rivals behind them. The Western Conference leaders kicked off the playoffs against the 8th-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. As was expected, the series was rather one-sided, and the Nuggets advanced to the next round after a dominant 4-1 series win.
Next up, the Nuggets had to face the Phoenix Suns. Like their next opponents, the Suns also convincingly won their 1st round series (against the Clippers) by a score of 4-1. Led by the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, the Phoenix team showed more resistance than the Nuggets’ round 1 opponents. Trailing with 0-2, the Suns managed to level the series after two games in their home arena. However, the series lasted only two more games in which the depth and versatility of the Nuggets proved too much to handle. Jokić, the two-time league MVP, averaged a triple-double (34.5 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 10.3 APG) across these six games.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets faced the 2020 champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, who robbed the Denver team of a Finals appearance that year. Some might have expected a tight and long series, but the Nuggets had something else in mind. The Lakers, with the top scorer in NBA history, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis leading the charge, suffered an emphatic 0-4 series loss, handing Denver their first-ever playoffs sweep.
Even 40 points, 9 assists, and 10 rebounds by James in game 4 weren’t enough to get a sole win in the series. What ensued was a stunning display of dominance from Denver, who showcased the ability to neutralize the opposition with their defensive prowess. At the same time, their offensive execution left opponents in awe across all 4 games.
While players like Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr stepped up their game to help inspire a swift closure to the series, again, it was Jokić who shone the brightest. The Serbian superstar averaged a ridiculous 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 11.8 assists per game. Even more impressively, Jokić is averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 10.3 assists in the 15 games he’s played in this year’s playoffs. That’s right, a triple-double on average!
On the Eastern Conference side, the Miami Heat embarked on their own remarkable journey to the NBA Finals. Having made a strong impact and growth in previous seasons, the Miami team is now vying for its championship glory. Although the Heat may not have had as convincing a road to the finals as Denver, who has lost only three games in the playoffs so far, it was undoubtedly more nerve-tickling and tough. The Heat kicked off their playoff journey in a spectacular manner, overpowering the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and 2021 champs Milwaukee Bucks in a 4-1 series win. This success was strongly influenced by Jimmy Butler, who averaged massive 37.6 points across the five games.
In the Conference Semifinals, the Heat’s resilience was put to the test against Jalen Brunson and the New York Knicks. Despite the Knicks’ gritty style of play, Miami’s ability to execute in crucial moments propelled them to a hard-fought 4-2 series victory. The Heat’s depth and versatility were on full display, with players like Bam Adebayo stepping up when their leader Butler was double-teamed and isolated by the opposition. In a series where both sides struggled from the 3-point mark, the Heat were eventually able to eliminate the New Yorkers in a comfortable 4-2 series win thanks to their ability to keep composure and dominate in the clutch.
Then came the Conference Finals against the Celtics. What seemed an utterly one-sided affair after three straight wins by the Heat turned out to be the most nerve-tickling series in the playoffs so far. However, 0-3 down, the Celtics, with their stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, refused to give up just yet. Two convincing wins by Boston were followed by Game 6, in which the Heat managed to hold their opponents close all game only to suffer a 3rd straight loss after a heartbreaking buzzer-beater tip-in by Derrick White.
It all came down to the decisive Game 7, which, by the way, was 2nd in a row for the Celtics after winning the 76ers 4-3 in the previous round. Despite having momentum and a chance to become the first-ever team in NBA playoffs to recover from a 0-3 deficit, the Celtics ultimately crumbled in their final matchup. 28 points by Jimmy Butler and 26 by Caleb Martin helped the Heat advance to the finals for the second time in four seasons and also to become only the second 8th-seeded team in NBA history to do so. And once again, it was Butler who led his team in points scored throughout the series, becoming the Eastern Conference finals Most Valuable Player.
What are the odds?
This year’s NBA finals will be a story of a No. 1 seed team facing a Play-In survivor. The best team of the regular season, who chopped its way through Kevin Durant and LeBron James against a team that crushed the all-mighty Bucks and went through an exhausting seven-game series before entering the finals.
Sure, the Nuggets are heavily favored to win the series, with the OlyBet sportsbook offering odds of 1.24 on their success. Meanwhile, the Heat are the underdogs at only 3.65. Though let’s not forget, they’ve been the underdogs ever since stepping into the playoffs. It’s what they’re used to and don’t really get bothered by, as told by Jimmy Butler. Sure, it won’t be easy to overpower the fresh and rested Nuggets squad, which has enjoyed over a week off after sweeping the Lakers, but the Heat has come so far for a reason.
At the end of the day, there’s a beauty to behold in either scenario. It will be either Nikola Jokić or Jimmy Butler lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, both fan-beloved players who have never achieved this feat. You can’t help but simply be happy with whoever of the two wins the finals. We surely won’t. The long-anticipated finals will kick off already tomorrow in Denver, so grab some popcorn and prepare for a truly exciting culmination of the season of the world’s leading basketball association.