The NBA Finals are finally underway with the Denver Nuggets ending the Miami Heat's Game 1 winning streak by taking a 1-0 lead in this series.
Nikola Jokic was the star man on the night, nabbing a triple-double in his Finals debut and watching his teammates put together strong performances to carry out a straightforward win. He told Shaquille O'Neal that he modeled his game after Shaq in the post-game interview.
Grant Hill: "Growing up overseas, who were the guys that you wanted to pattern your game after?"
Nikola Jokic: "I think it's Shaq."
Shaquille O'Neal: "Means a lot. Thank you, brother."
It seems the pair had a joking interaction, given how everyone laughed. There are way too many stylistic differences in their games, with Shaq dominating his era with generational athletic ability while Jokic does it with never-seen-before guard-like skills from a seven-footer.
The 2023 Playoffs have proven Nikola Jokic's standing as the best player in the world after his usual rivals all failed to take their teams deep into the postseason. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a historic first-round loss to Jokic's current opponents, Joel Embiid couldn't close out a 3-2 series lead in the second round, and Stephen Curry lost to LeBron James and Anthony Davis before Jokic beat them both. The Serbian center really might be the last man standing.
Jimmy Butler wasn't in these conversations throughout the season, but the Heat dismantling teams like the Bucks and Celtics have reminded everyone of his status as a playoff riser. Game 1 was disappointing for him, in addition to no spectacular performances after the first round, averaging 24.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on 42.4% in rounds two and three.
Jokic needs to lead his team to three more wins so we can finally claim there's an undisputed best player in the NBA, at least until the next season starts in October.
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