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NBA Finals: The Miami Heat will take on the Denver Nuggets

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Miami Heat will advance to the NBA finals after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last night. The Celtics were hoping to become the first team in NBA history to come back from being three games down in a best of seven, but Miami winds up playing the Denver Nuggets in the finals. That begins Thursday in Denver. Jesse Washington watched the action unfold. He's a senior writer for ESPN's Andscape. Jesse, Miami stopped the slide last night to finally eliminate the Celtics. How did they wind up doing it?

JESSE WASHINGTON: Man, well, the first way that they did it is they got lucky. And on the first play of the game, the Celtics' Jayson Tatum turned his ankle pretty badly and was ineffective for the rest of the game. And, look, a lot of people are saying, oh, you got to play through it. That's what you're supposed to do as a superstar, man. I've played in big games with a rolled ankle, and you're just not yourself. And clearly Jayson Tatum could not do what they needed him to do, what he's capable of doing. So that was the first way that Miami did it. But the second way, man - they got a team. They got a squad, and their role-players stepped up huge. Caleb Martin - 26 points - should have been the MVP, not Jimmy Butler. Duncan Robinson, former Division III player - 10 points. Gabe Vincent, Max Strus - they got guys, I don't even know their first names - some guy named Highsmith - coming in and giving you big minutes. So Miami has really...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...Shown this amazing ability to have these other guys step up and contribute.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So it's going to be the Heat and the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday, Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Denver swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. It'll be 10 days in between games for the Nuggets. Are they going to be rested or rusty?

WASHINGTON: Rested, ready - they're ready to win that chip, man. Denver's looking great. They got the best player in the world right now - Jokic, Nikola Jokic They got Jamal Murray playing like we all knew he could play before he got injured. There are role-players that are terrific. So I don't think that there's any problem with this layoff, and I think that the Heat have a huge challenge here to even win two games off the Nuggets, let alone win the championship.

MARTÍNEZ: Really because I was thinking about the Heat - are they going to be gassed or geared up, considering they just played this intense seven-game series?

WASHINGTON: Well, they're going to be geared up. The Heat don't get gassed. And you know, that's part of Heat culture, this famous stuff. And I got to mention here, I think the difference in this Celtics series and the reason why they won is Erik Spoelstra. The coach of the Heat is amazing. Like, how does he take these guys who you've never heard of, who you wouldn't recognize if you saw them in the supermarket and turn them into one of the two best teams in the NBA? He does it year after year. So they're going to be ready. Coach Spo is going to have them ready. The question is, do they have the firepower to compete with Denver?

MARTÍNEZ: Now, I'm sure most NBA fans, Jesse, probably wanted to see the Lakers play the Celtics, but why is a Heat-Nuggets NBA Finals worth watching?

WASHINGTON: That's a great question. Two reasons - No. 1, Jokic - I mean this guy is great, and you got to appreciate his game. There's been a lot of slander about he's awkward, he's this, he's that, he's that.

MARTÍNEZ: The Nuggets center.

WASHINGTON: And the guy can just hoop. The guy can just hoop, the Nuggets center. And the second reason is how can you not enjoy watching a bunch of overachievers who aren't really supposed to be there in the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler and his guys? You got to enjoy watching them pour their hearts and souls into this series, into these playoffs. It should be fun to watch.

MARTÍNEZ: Jesse Washington, senior writer for ESPN's Andscape. Jesse, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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