MIAMI (AFP) — The Denver Nuggets moved within one win of their first NBA title on Thursday, beating Miami 108-95 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.
Aaron Gordon starred for Denver, putting up 27 points. Nikola Jokic added 23 for the Nuggets, who can secure the championship with a home victory in game five on Monday.
It was a convincing victory for Denver, who were superior in every aspect and had key contributions from across the court, this time by no means reliant on Jokic and Jamaal Murray with Gordon in particular a thorn in Miami’s side throughout.
As well as his 11 for 15 shooting, Gordon claimed seven rebounds with six assists and two steals.
“I thought Aaron Gordon was huge all night long. He brought his hardhat tonight and was just a warrior on both ends for us,” said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone.
“Truly a team win. We’ve done our job but we’re not celebrating like we’ve done anything yet.
“We know we’re going to have to go home and turn off the TV, the radio, don’t read the papers, don’t listen to everybody telling you how great you are because we haven’t done a damn thing yet.
“We have to win another game to be world champions, and we’re going to do that by simply taking it one quarter at a time.
“We stay true to our identity, we’ll give ourselves a great chance to do that,” he added.
The eighth-seeded Heat have made a habit of comebacks and upsets during their run to the finals, but they again looked clear second best against Michael Malone’s outstanding team.
Questions had been asked of the Nuggets after they lost game two on their home court, but they leave Miami with two road victories and need one win from three games to clinch the crown.
Denver were up by four at the half, but as in Wednesday’s encounter they took a firm of grip of proceedings during the third quarter where they moved 13 points ahead.
The Nuggets got a scare when Jokic tweaked an ankle in the first quarter and had to cope without the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player for a five minute spell in the fourth when he was benched by Malone after picking up a fifth foul with 9:23 left.
But Miami failed to take advantage, continuing to miss baskets on transition plays and unable to exploit the lack of the Serbian’s presence in the paint.
The Heat closed to within 86-81 before Murray drained a huge three and when Jokic came back with 4:09 left, the Nuggets were up nine.
Bruce Brown delivered down the stretch, with three baskets, ending with 21 points on eight of 11 shooting from the field as the Nuggets raced towards the finish line.
One more to go
“Today was a team effort. I can’t even name one person,” said Denver guard Jamal Murray. “Everybody locked in.
“We’ve got one more to go,” added Murray, who had 15 points and 12 assists — maintaining his record of double figure assists in each game in the series.
“I give all my credits to my teammates. They did a great job. There’s a great team effort on both ends. We’ve got to do that for one more game and we get our goal,” he said.
“We just need to stay level-headed, stay focused”.
Miami, who were outgunned in three point shooting 14-8, were led by Jimmy Butler’s 25 points with Bam Adebayo adding 20.
“Every time we felt like we got it to six or eight, they were able to push it to 12,” said Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra, who insisted that the series could still be turned around.
“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.
“All we are going to focus on is getting this thing back to the 305,” he said, a reference to the Miami area code. “Get this thing back to Miami and things can shift very quickly.”