Aaron Gordon scored 27 points, Nikola Jokic had 23 and the Denver Nuggets took down the Miami Heat 108-95 on Friday night to take a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
The Nuggets have never been to the finals in all 47 years of its franchise history until this season, now only one more victory stands in their way of an elusive NBA championship.
“We haven’t done a damn thing yet. We have to win another game to be world champions,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Former Miami Hurricane, Bruce Brown, scored 21 points coming off of the bench, while Jamal Murray posted 15 points and 12 assists for Denver, who won their fifth straight road game of the playoffs. The Nuggets will have three opportunities to close out this series for a title, two home games in Denver, one at Miami in Game 6, their first shot will be in Denver for Game 5 on Monday.
“Today was a team effort, I can’t even name one person. Everybody locked in. We’ve got one more to go,” Murray said.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for the Heat, which has now fallen into 3-1 holes in each of its last three NBA Finals appearances. Bam Adebayo added a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Kyle Lowry scored 13 points off the bench. It’s not a situation Miami wants to be in, but they will have no choice but to claw back in this series.
“Now we’re in a must-win situation, every single game… which we’re capable of, it is not impossible,” Butler said.
It certainly did not help the situation when two Heat starters, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, would play for 38 minutes and combined for only two points (shooting 1-for-10) and one assist. For Strus, it is his second game in the NBA Finals without making a single shot… ouch. Nevertheless, Miami will have to move on from the result of Game 4.
The Nuggets were considered the favorites entering the series. Denver was the Western Conference’s top-seed; Miami was the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final-seed. Prior to the NBA Finals, the Nuggets had won nine of their last 10 regular-season meetings between the two teams, that track record has carried over through four games in the finals.
“Our guys are locked in, man, we’re focused,” Malone said.
Miami led 21-20 after the first quarter. The 41 combined points were the lowest amount in the first quarter of the last 24 finals games; the first quarter of Game 4 between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors series in 2019 had only 40 points.
The second and third quarters were almost disastrous for the Heat. Denver led by 13 points going into the fourth quarter, and Miami came out for the final quarter with desperation. The Heat would score the first eight points, Jokic committed his fifth foul and had to go to the bench with 9:24 remaining and the game was brought within five points after Jimmy Butler converted a three-point play with 8:42 left in regulation.
The Nuggets would respond, even with their superstar Jokic sitting on the bench in foul trouble. Jamal Murray would connect on a three-pointer to put an end to Miami’s 8-0 run, and Jeff Green made a critical three-pointer near the Heat bench that would push Denver’s lead back up to 94-85 with 6:21 remaining.
“We have guys that can step up, night in and night out,” Gordon said.
Jokic checked out of the game in foul trouble with a Denver 10-point lead. He came back to the floor with a nine-point Nuggets advantage. The Heat did not capitalize on that golden opportunity, and now they find theirselves in a position only one team has ever overcome in NBA history.
Out of 36 attempts from teams, only one has come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a championship in the NBA Finals; that team was the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers led by former Miami Heat superstar, LeBron James.
Miami has their backs against the wall, they will have to do it the hard way, while history and statistics are against them… once again.
“We have an incredibly competitive group, we’ve done everything the hard way and that’s the way it’s going to have to be done right now, again. And all we’re going to focus on is getting this thing back to the 305. Get this thing back to Miami… and things can shift very quickly,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
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