Cody Zeller saw the first NBA Finals action of his career on Thursday and the Heat squared off against the Nuggets in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.
It did not go well for the veteran big man.
Zeller — who checked in to relieve Bam Adebayo, as he has done often this postseason — was given the impossible task of guarding Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. He struggled to contain the two-time NBA MVP and ended up on the wrong side of some highlight plays as a result.
Defensively, Zeller was overmatched by Jokic’s strength and, surprisingly enough, the center’s quickness. Jokic isn’t particularly fast or athletic, but he was still able to make the slow-footed Zeller work to stay in front of him.
And when Jokic was driving to the hoop, Zeller wasn’t able to slow him down at all.
Nikola Jokic out here just tossing Cody Zeller pic.twitter.com/blof5R9FjD
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) June 2, 2023
When Zeller was on offense, the results were even more embarrassing. At one point, Jokic completely abandoned Zeller while the center was driving to the hoop. The 30-year-old had a chance to lay the ball in, but he was unable to convert.
Zeller was able to record three rebounds in the half but otherwise failed to make much of a positive impact. NBA fans and media personalities noted as much, and they broke down Zeller’s performance both with legitimate analysis and jokes that poked fun at the veteran.
Below are some of the most notable reactions to Zeller’s first half.
The extent to which Jokic is not guarding Cody Zeller is absolutely hilarious. Jokic ran away from him *while Zeller was dribbling toward the hoop* just now, and Zeller still wasn’t able to finish.
— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) June 2, 2023
Jokic when he sees Cody Zeller guarding him pic.twitter.com/PToJSiuEHC
— Kofie (@Kofie) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller wandered onto the court a while ago and security still hasn’t noticed or done anything about it
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller trying to defend Jokic pic.twitter.com/3qrkH4CMPa
— ProNuggetsTalk Commenter (@PFTCommenter) June 2, 2023
“We’re gonna need you to guard Jokic”
Cody Zeller: pic.twitter.com/I2KDnITME8
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller getting minutes in the first quarter of the NBA Finals should tell you all you need to know about the Heat’s chances
— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) June 2, 2023
Jokic just told Cody Zeller to hit the weight room, wrap this series up.
— Ahmed/The Ears/IG: BigBizTheGod 🇸🇴 (@big_business_) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller when Jokic has the ball pic.twitter.com/qhg0eBvt8d
— Kofie (@Kofie) June 2, 2023
here is what nikola jokic thinks of the heat trying to steal some cody zeller minutes pic.twitter.com/R8MtnLkCSZ
— Dan Favale (@danfavale) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller guarding Jokic, yea congrats to Denver Nuggets on winning the NBA finals😭😭😭😭
— JPW (@JWepp) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller being in an NBA Finals rotation is nasty work https://t.co/x466G2p3gm
— Stephen A. Smith Burner’s Burner Parody (@TheSASBurner) June 2, 2023
— Mike Fuentes (@mikefountains) June 2, 2023
Jokic seeing Cody Zeller guarding him pic.twitter.com/fljAFrgygp
— Booker Fanatic (@BookerFanatic_) June 2, 2023
nikola jokic vs. cody zeller: pic.twitter.com/XOAKTIQrAU
— alex (@steven_lebron) June 2, 2023
Cody Zeller trying to guard Jokic
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) June 2, 2023
It’s hard to blame Zeller too much for his struggles against Jokic. He is simply overmatched in that battle, as most backup big men across the NBA would be. The problem is that Miami simply doesn’t have a particularly deep frontcourt rotation, so Zeller has had to fill that role.
Still, it’s worth remembering that Zeller was once capable of defending the Nuggets star. That was seven years ago, when he blocked Jokic three times on one possession.
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) June 2, 2023
Even so, given Zeller’s present-day struggles, it wouldn’t be surprising to see coach Erik Spoelstra try a different option moving forward. Perhaps Kevin Love or Omar Yurtseven will be the first big off the bench in Game 2 when Adebayo needs a break.