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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Chris Mannix

Nuggets’ Stars Shine Brightest to Reclaim Finals Lead Over Heat

Just when it looked like the Heat might seize control of the Finals, the Nuggets roared back, hammering Miami 109–94 in Game 3 to reclaim home court advantage and take a 2–1 series lead.

Here are three thoughts on the Nuggets’ win.

Denver’s stars showed up

Following up perhaps the most widely panned 41-point performance in Finals history, Nikola Jokić submitted a Jokić-ey 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, racking up his NBA single-season record 10th playoff triple double—and the first 30-20-10 game in Finals history. Jamal Murray bested his Game 2 scoring (18 points) in the first half of Game 3 (20), en route to 34.

The two-man game between Denver’s Big Two was outstanding. Jokić, as he did in Game 1, orchestrated the offense brilliantly, slinging cross court passes to Murray, flipping post passes to a cutting Christian Braun, slipping touch passes to Aaron Gordon. Murray was efficient (12-of-22) and never stopped facilitating, collecting 10 assists. A rebound in the closing seconds gave Murray his triple double, punctuating a statement game for the Nuggets’ top two players.

On effort, advantage Denver

Michael Malone, correctly, called out his team’s effort in Game 2, specifically a nonchalant fourth quarter where the Nuggets allowed the Heat to erase a 12-point deficit. There was no such letdown in Game 3. After a back-and-forth first quarter, Denver surged to a five-point lead at half. The third quarter was especially devastating: The Nuggets outscored Miami 29–20, pushing the lead to 14, and won its first fourth quarter of the Finals (27–26) to close the game out.

Defensively, Denver was relentless. The Nuggets held Miami to 37% from the floor and 31% from three. They clobbered the Heat on the glass (58–33) and in paint scoring (60–34) and didn’t trail for a minute in the second half.

Miami needs its role players to show up

In Game 3, the Heat got 50 points from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The rest of the starting lineup: 16. Max Strus was 1-of-7. Gabe Vincent finished 2-of-10. Off the bench Caleb Martin had his most productive game of this series (10 points) but he had just two in the second half. Duncan Robinson finished 3-of-6 from three-point range but a pair of them came in the final two minutes.

Miami can lean on Butler. Adebayo, too. Both have had outstanding postseasons. But Miami is in the Finals because Martin—a near miss for conference finals MVP—has been outstanding, Strus has been efficient and Robinson has been a capable fill-in for Tyler Herro. The Heat can’t win when their starting backcourt is 2-of-10 from three-point range. When Kevin Love struggles (Love was 2-of-9 in Game 3), Martin needs to play well off the bench. Butler can take over late in games. But he needs more help—much more help—during them. 

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