Michael Malone admitted as much after Game 2, and he spoke again ahead of the whistleblower Wednesday night, about his Denver Nuggets’ fourth-quarter struggles against the Miami Heat in those NBA Finals. When the final frame of Game 3 began at Kaseya Center, visiting Denver had a 14-point advantage behind a leading charge from Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. This time around, Malone left Jokić on the floor instead of the bench unit that featured Murray with Aaron Gordon, as well as the standard Nuggets reserve trio: all-rounder Bruce Brown, rookie Christian Braun and veteran Jeff Green.
Jokić was simply sensational. Denver had no choice but to leave him on the floor with a chance to turn home-court advantage in favor of the Nuggets. The two-time MVP was the first player in NBA history to post more than 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a Finals performance, a true triumph at center in Denver’s 109-94 victory that regained a 2-1 series lead. the heat. Jokić’s final record: 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. At this rate, is there a better word than “masterpiece” to describe the performance of the Serb on this stage of the championship?
Denver’s attacking bookends worked their perfected two-man game for much of the night, with Jokić catching Murray’s flows in the paint, the confident guard moving up in midrange finishes and triples in withdrawal. Murray would finish with his own 30-point triple-double: a game-high 34 points, plus 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Nuggets, however, have lacked a consistent third contributor to their offense all series. Gordon’s interior dominance from the start of the first game has not followed. Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been ineffective weapons on the perimeter. And while Murray opened the fourth quarter with a jumper and Jokić contributed the first four points, it was Braun who exploded off the Denver bench and helped the Nuggets stem another double-digit comeback in Miami.
Braun packed all the punch – 15 points – during his 19 minutes. Against Miami’s zone defense with Duncan Robinson on the field, Braun knocked down the backdoor on a number of shots from Murray throughout this contest. The 22-year-old plays curled up at all times, ready to spring in a powerful flurry, whether on the glass or attacking a fence or pushing a free pass for a transition finish. His drive and flat for Jokić’s short jumper early in the fourth cut Denver’s lead to 16. Braun then clipped the baseline and finished with Gabe Vincent’s contact for an and-1 that cut the lead to 19. He charged straight at Jimmy Butler in open ground on the very next possession and scored once more.
Butler regained his playoff shine for much of the night, leading Miami with a team-high 28 points. Adebayo was right behind him with 22 points and 17 rebounds, and knocked out Jokić in the second quarter. But for the 3-point barrage that the Heat’s supporting players contributed in Game 2, only Caleb Martin hit double digits outside of Miami’s main players. Robinson plugged a few late triples, enough for Malone to shake his head and call for a timeout with just over a minute left. Denver, however, managed to keep the Heat at bay.
The complete final frame that eluded the Nuggets against this scrappy opponent, the quarterback that saw the Nuggets stumble their first home game of the entire postseason in Game 2, was nothing but a low bar. to cross once this game moves to South Florida. Denver has won four straight road games this playoffs. Miami has now lost three straight at home.
For the way this final felt knotted a few days ago, Denver seemed to have found enough momentum to maybe get through a fourth battle on Friday, before the Nuggets could close out their first championship in franchise history. the franchise at Ball Arena in game 5. Or will the Miami team, who didn’t say they die once in this playoffs, will live to tell another comeback story ?