Ball Arena was buzzing. The stage was set. The lights were bright. There were feelings of tension but also anticipation spread throughout the building ahead of the first-ever NBA Finals game played in Denver.

As Nikola Jokic warmed up in the Nuggets’ tunnel before taking the floor for layup lines, “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins blasted from the jumbotron. It felt like a landmark moment in Nuggets history, which Thursday night absolutely was. Aaron Gordon took a moment during the National Anthem to soak it all in.

“I was like ‘Wow, this is really the NBA Finals, and it’s really, really cool,'” Gordon said.

But then Game 1 tipped off, and suddenly everything felt normal.

Jokic recorded another triple-double and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists. Jamal Murray took over for portions of Game 1 and tallied 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game-high 44 minutes. Gordon used his physicality to bully Heat defenders inside and set the tone for the Nuggets with 12 of Denver’s 29 first-quarter points while holding “Playoff” Jimmy Butler, who walked out of the Heat locker room postgame with a can of Michelob Ultra in hand, to his lowest-scoring game of the playoffs.

It felt like a typical Nuggets win, except taking Game 1 of the Finals is anything but typical.

There was a calmness to how the Nuggets operated while playing in the Finals spotlight for the first time. There was a poise to how Denver carried itself throughout all four quarters. The Nuggets played confident, relaxed, and like the two-time MVP, looked ready and prepared for the moment even with the entire world’s attention on them for the first time ever.

“To be honest, I couldn’t wait to start, just because when the game started it felt normal,” Nikola Jokic said after the Nuggets’ 104-93 win, which wasn’t as close as the score indicated. “Everything else didn’t feel normal. The whole media day yesterday or the day before, I think people are making something bigger than it is. When the game started I felt really comfortable.”

How on earth is this dude so cool? Nothing can rattle Joker. Nothing can throw him off his game. His first Finals game was a walk in the park. It was really just another game to him. Watching Jokic operate, it felt like any other regular season matchup. Sometimes first-time Finals participants are rattled. Jokic patiently controlled the entire game.

He only attempted one shot in the first quarter and racked up six assists while letting Gordon eat the Heat’s small ball starting five alive in the paint. When Miami manufactured a brief late-game comeback, Jokic then shifted into top gear and put in 12 fourth-quarter points to close the door on the Heat’s run.

The Nuggets never panicked. They never lost their composure. They looked like a team that had been in the Finals and on this stage many times before.

“I think it’s a standard that we hold ourselves to and that we have held ourselves to all year long,” Gordon said about the Nuggets’ poise. “We’ve been building habits day in and day out. So, you get to a game like this, the biggest stage in basketball, you let your standard of play and you let your habits carry you.

“We don’t want to change too much. We want to go back to the film and look where we can get better. If we’re looking to improve, I think we’re in a good place.”

The Nuggets look like they’re ready to end this series before it’s even started. Miami will adjust ahead of Game 2. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is too good not to have a few tricks up his sleeve to slow Denver’s attack and muster up a better offensive performance.

But good luck.

“Once we play the way we play,” said Murray. “It doesn’t really matter what the other team does.”

The Nuggets are an offensive machine that can score in every way imaginable and hurt you from all angles. They proved that again in Game 1. Every member of their starting five is a threat. They can play any style and adapt to every type of fight. The Nuggets shot just 8-27 (29.6%) from 3-point range Thursday — their second-worst shooting performance of the playoffs — so Denver beat Miami with two’s and held the Heat to just 93 points.

“This is just Denver Nugget basketball,” Gordon said. “We find a mismatch, we exploit it, and we keep going to it.”

The Nuggets have only lost three games all playoffs. Two were Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix where Devin Booker shot a combined 34-43 for 83 points. The other was an OT loss in Minnesota. This team is a juggernaut. They have been all season and postseason long. They’ve dominated their competition in these playoffs by playing their way.

If this team keeps playing Denver Nuggets basketball, the Larry O’Brien trophy is coming to the Mile High City for the first time ever.


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. Hear him every day on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind