FOX Sports NBA Writer
Well, it took just three NBA Finals games for Nikola Jokic to put up one of his video-game like box scores. This time, he became the first player in NBA history to tally at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a Finals game.
Jokic finished Game 3 with 32 points (on just 21 field goal attempts!), 21 rebounds and 10 assists, his 10th triple-double of the playoffs. He canned jumpers, bullied switches and punished double-teams by flinging pinpoint passes all over the court. The Heat had no answer for him and now the Nuggets, thanks to their 109-94 victory Wednesday in Miami, have a 2-1 series lead and a reclaimed home-court advantage.
This was the Nuggets’ best performance of the Finals. They escaped Game 1 with a win thanks to the Heat bricking a bunch of open 3s. A poor defensive performance cost them Game 2. In Game 3, they were locked in on both ends of the court. They held the Heat to 37% shooting while hitting 51.2% of their own shots.
It wasn’t a one-man performance, either. Jamal Murray had his best game of the Finals, racking up a triple-double of his own with 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, making Murray and Jokic the first pair of teammates in NBA history to each have a 30-point triple-double in the same game. And then there was rookie Christian Braun, who in the previous two games had played just 25 minutes and had scored six points but on Wednesday exploded for 15 points in 19 minutes, as well as four rebounds and a number of electric plays.
The Heat were led by Jimmy Butler, who had 28 points, and Bam Adebayo, who added 22 points and 17 rebounds. Game 4 is Friday night in Miami. The Nuggets have now won four straight road playoff games.
Stats to know
What the Heat shot on 3-pointers. They put up 35, but only connected on 11. As this series progresses, it’s becoming clear that Miami’s 3-point shooting is going to be one of the things that determines the winner. If the Heat get good looks from 3 and hit them, as they did in Game 2, they’re hard to beat. If they don’t, it’s tough for them to win.
The margin the Nuggets outscored the Heat by in the fourth quarter. In Game 1, the Heat outscored the Nuggets in the fourth quarter 30-20. In Game 2 it was 36-25. The Heat have been a great second-half and fourth-quarter team all postseason, but in Game 3, the Nuggets were able to somewhat reverse that trend and put the game away in the final 12 minutes. The final margin might only be +1, but that’s because the Nuggets got sloppy in the game’s final few minutes. In the fourth-quarter minutes that mattered, Denver outplayed Miami. That’s something that couldn’t be said in Games 1 and 2.
Play of the game
This might not be the most electric play, but it’s symbolic of what makes the Nuggets so great. How are you supposed to guard this?
Up next for the Heat
The Heat have two options: figure out a way to slow down Jokic or figure out a way to outscore Denver. The latter worked in their Game 2 win. Given how incredible, versatile, big and talented Jokic is, it’s probably their only option.
Up next for the Nuggets
The Nuggets once again showed that they’re the more talented group. The Murray-Jokic pick-and-roll is unguardable. They have the size and defenders to make life difficult for the Heat on offense, if the effort and — to use a word Nuggets head coach Michael Malone used between Games 2 and 3 — discipline on defense are there. They’re now just two wins away from the first title in franchise history.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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