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The Miami Heat are back on their home court for Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets Friday, just 48 hours after Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray etched themselves into history by becoming the first pair of teammates ever to record 30-point triple-doubles in the same game.
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The Heat got off to a strong start in Game 3 as they successfully carried their momentum from their Game 2 win onto their home court. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo played downhill and applied tons of pressure on the Denver interior to create easy shots, offensive rebounding opportunities, and open up kick-outs to shooters on the perimeter.
As the game progressed, Murray and Jokic began to assert themselves. The pair scored or assisted on 46 of Denver’s 53 first-half points and were totally unstoppable in the two-man game. The Heat countered by blitzing Murray whenever he was in the pick-and-roll, but he was still able to shred the defense and find open teammates, namely Christian Braun, who dominated the dunker spot in the second half.
Miami tried to wield its patented zone in the fourth quarter but could not do so to the same effect it had in the previous two games when it won the final period by 10 and 11 points. They still managed to go on a classic Miami run and brought the game from 19 points to just nine with a few minutes left, but the Nuggets made their free-throws and saw the game over the line without ever being seriously threatened.
There is no lede in sports greater than Jokic and Murray’s Game 3 performances. Jokic dropped an unbelievable 32 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists, making him the first player in Finals history with a 30/20/10 game, while Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. They also shot a combined 24-43 from the field and 4-8 from three in what has a great chance of being remembered as the greatest-ever Finals performance by a duo.
Christian Braun (15 points, four rebounds) was also excellent off the bench for Denver. He made a number of hustle plays and was brilliant cutting to the paint all night, and also provided a mini-scoring run in the fourth as Miami was building momentum and played solid defense on Jimmy Butler and other Heat players when asked. Aaron Gordon (11 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) also had a very strong, well-balanced outing.
Butler led the way for the Heat with 28 points but only four rebounds and two assists and was not that impactful. Bam Adebayo had another strong showing with 22 points and 17 rebounds but was overshadowed by Jokic’s dominance. The Heat only made 11 threes and shot just over 31% from outside, which also did them no favors.
Going into Game 3, we made the case that the Nuggets had more to tap into than the Heat did. And while there were tactical adjustments made, we didn’t necessarily expect that reserve to be a pair of 30-point triple-doubles in the most important game of the year.
The Nuggets found more success against the zone than any team in the league during the regular season but struggled to find the same effect in the first couple of games of the series. That was not an issue in Game 3, even when one of Jokic or Murray wasn’t on the court. Miami now faces a crisis as it can’t defend either one of them straight up and may have lost its fastball that was the zone defense.
The Heat need to get up more three-pointers to match the Nuggets’ explosive scoring to have a chance in Game 4. They also need to do a better job protecting cuts to the paint and continue to hold the Nuggets out of their lethal transition game.
The Heat will win Game 4 if they get off to a hot start and can force the ball out of the Denver stars’ hands. They did that by blitzing Murray in the pick-and-roll and denying Jokic an entry pass by running a 2-1-2 zone in their Game 2 win but could not recreate that success in Game 3.
The Nuggets are the more talented team by quite some margin. They can only let themselves down if they are outworked and outthought by Miami, otherwise, they have a very clear path to victory. Murray and Jokic will be on tired legs but have to suck it up now that they are just two wins away from their franchise’s first-ever championship.
While there was some optimism the Heat could get a split at home, it will be much tougher after seeing how they were just brutalized in Game 3. The Nuggets’ supporting cast also has lots of room to improve, which is a very scary prospect for Heat fans.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
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