Joker versus Jimmy: Who will have the Last Laugh?

Joker+versus+Jimmy%3A+Who+will+have+the+Last+Laugh%3F

Image by Joan Chong for The UCSD Guardian

Alan Ding, Contributing Writer

The matchup is now set for the 2023 NBA Finals with two teams that frankly seem like stark opposites to each other and have taken unique paths to get to this point. On one hand, the Denver Nuggets have been the #1 seed essentially the whole season. Riding the coattails of Nikola Jokic who has been playing at a MVP level and star point guard Jamal Murray, they have taken care of business this playoffs, dismantling their opponents with ease. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have had a long and tiresome journey to get to this point, starting all the way back in the play-in tournament. After losing to the Atlanta Hawks, they had to defeat the Chicago Bulls just to avoid elimination. However, they have not played like underdogs at all this postseason. Crushing the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in five, defeating the young, upstart New York Knicks in six, and then putting their foot down on the Boston Celtics in Game 7 has led them to become just the second No. 8 seed to make the Finals, the first since the 1999 Knicks. As we kick off the Finals, let’s take a look at some key storylines and matchups:

  • The Joker vs Bam Bam

 

As all eyes turn to Nikola Jokic to lead his team, Bam Adebayo will inevitably have his hands full guarding Jokic and contributing offensively. Jokic has been borderline unstoppable this playoffs, going against the best big men in the league including Karl Anthony-Towns, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Ayton, and Anthony Davis. Adebayo is 30 pounds lighter and a bit shorter than Jokic, so he will have to use his relative speed to make things tough for him. The problem is that Jokic is so good on all facets offensively and always makes the right play for his team. His stats back it up, as he is on pace to become just the fourth ever player to average a triple-double in the playoffs. Don’t count Bam out yet though. Earning All-Defensive Second Team honors this year, Adebayo has established himself as an elite defender in this league. Ranked 5th in drop coverages and 2nd in one-on-one coverages, his versatility makes him great at switching on screens and disrupting ball movement. He is a complete package that will be tested by Jokic’s offensive firepower and basketball IQ. 

  • How bright will the lights be for Miami’s role players?

 

Miami has boasted a roster of underrated, undrafted players this season who have more than proved their worth this year. Names like Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin, and Max Strus have all made their impact felt this postseason. All four provide the Heat with exceptional three point shooting and have been a spark off the bench, especially when Jimmy Butler had a bit of a shooting slump last series. Martin even thrust himself into the Eastern Conference Finals MVP conversation as he averaged 19.3 points during the series and poured in 26 in a crucial Game 7. Their next-man-up mentality has been all the more necessary with key players Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo sidelined. We’ll see how Coach Spoelstra manages his rotations and how these role players fare on basketball’s biggest stage. 

  • Playoff Jimmy? Playoff Jimmy. 

 

In case you’ve been living under a rock during these playoffs, Jimmy Butler’s propensity for drastically increasing his scoring and basketball ability during the postseason has earned him the nickname of Playoff Jimmy. Like Jokic for the Nuggets, Butler has been a leader and a driving force for his team, seemingly willing the Heat to the championship round by himself. His composure and ultimate confidence in his team and in himself is apparent whether he’s on the court or giving a postgame interview. His chilling prophecy last year after losing to the Celtics in seven, “We’re gonna be right back in the same situation, and we’re gonna get it done” is a testament to this faith. Butler has been clutch all playoffs, averaging almost 38 points against the Bucks and closing out Game 7 this year vs Boston. While he had less output offensively last series, it will be exciting to watch Butler go to work against possibly Gordon or Caldwell-Pope. Expect big minutes this series for Miami’s biggest star. 

 

A lot is on the line for both teams. This year is Denver’s first Finals appearance in franchise history, and they look to capitalize on the high expectations for this team. A ring would cement Jokic as one of the best centers of all time and erase the previous postseason failures his team has endured. It would also be a feel-good story for many veteran players on this team who have bounced around the league and have not yet won a championship in their career, such as DeAndre Jordan, Aaron Gordon, and Jeff Green. The Heat look to avenge their 2020 Finals loss in the bubble and would cement themselves as a consistent powerhouse in the East with a ring. Under the dominant leadership of executive Pat Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra, this duo could strengthen their winning legacy in the 21st century and award Spoelstra his first championship without Lebron James.