Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets — 8:30 pm ET - ABC
After a closely fought first half, the Nuggets quickly pulled away in the third quarter of Game 3 to take a 109-94 win and a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. The Nuggets led by as many as 21 points, and shot 51.2 percent from the field compared to the Heat’s mark of just 37 percent.
Jimmy Butler finished with his best scoring output of the series so far with 28 points, but only shot 11-of-24 and could benefit from being even more aggressive moving forward. Along with cool shooting nights from Bam Adebayo (only 7-of-21 shooting as he failed to get going from his mid-range/face-up spots), Gabe Vincent (2-of-10 for seven points) and Max Strus (1-of-7 for three points), simply too many of the Heat’s key players were struggling offensively for them to hang with Denver.
Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray exploded. Jokic put up 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 21 rebounds and 10 assists, while Murray added his own triple-double with 32 points (12-of-22 shooting), 10 boards and 10 assists. They were electric. Whenever it felt like the Heat might pull closer, one of the Nuggets’ stars had an answer to get a bucket and deny any comeback efforts.
In fact, Murray and Jokic became the first teammates in NBA history to both record a 30-point triple-double in the same game. To help Denver even further, Aaron Gordon added 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and rookie Christian Braun briefly stole the show at times as he maximized his 19-minute opportunity on his first Finals stage. Braun was the Nuggets’ third-leading scorer with 15 points on a near-perfect 7-of-8 shooting, providing sturdy defense and plenty of strong drives and cuts to the basket.
If Murray and Jokic are firing on all cylinders like this and the Nuggets are getting solid contributions from their role players, it’s going to be tough for Miami to keep up. The Heat still have a defense that can bother the Nuggets, though, and they’ve already made tweaks and mixed in smart zone usage to cause some problems. Their top players won’t always shoot so poorly, either. It’ll be interesting to see what Erik Spoelstra has up his sleeve on Friday night, and if there are any adjustments Miami can make to counter Denver’s impressive performance.
“I will be better, because when I’m better, we’re better as a whole,” Butler told reporters after Game 3.
Let’s see if Jimmy and Co. can make this a series again and tie things up at 2-2 before the Finals return to Denver.