Aaron Gordon scored 27 points, Nikola Jokic added 23 and the Denver Nuggets moved one win away from their first NBA championship by beating the Miami Heat 108-95 on Friday night to take a 3-1 lead in the title series.
Bruce Brown scored 21 off the bench for the Nuggets, who took both games in Miami to grab complete command. They’ll have three chances to win one game for a title, two of those in Denver, the first of them in what’s sure to be a raucous atmosphere for Game 5 on Monday night.
Jamal Murray had 15 points and 12 assists — his fourth consecutive double-digit assist game — for Denver.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for Miami, which has now fallen into 3-1 holes in each of its last three finals appearances — this one joining 2014 and 2020. Bam Adebayo had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, while Kyle Lowry had 13 points.
The Heat walked off the floor in silence, fully aware of how much trouble they’re in now.
The Nuggets were overwhelming favorites to start the series, for obvious reasons. Denver was the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed; Miami was the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed. The Nuggets had won nine of the last 10 regular-season meetings between the teams, and their run of success over the Heat has continued through four games of the finals.
Denver led by 13 going into the fourth, and Miami came out for the final quarter with appropriate desperation. The Heat scored the first eight points, Jokic committed his fifth foul and had to go to the bench with 9:24 left — and it was down to 86-81 when Butler converted a three-point play with 8:42 remaining.
But the Nuggets – who fell apart in the fourth quarter of Game 2 for their lone loss of the series – didn’t fold, even with their two-time MVP still out. Murray made a 3-pointer to stop Miami’s 8-0 spurt, and Jeff Green made a huge corner 3 from near the Heat bench for a 94-85 edge with 6:21 left.
Jokic checked out with Denver up 10. He came back with the Nuggets up nine.
Miami didn’t take advantage of that chance, and now finds itself on the wrong end of history. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals have won 35 out of 36 previous times, and the Heat will have to buck that trend to keep Denver from winning its title.
The Nuggets even survived a scare. Jokic tweaked his right ankle when he landed on the back of Max Strus’ foot midway through the opening quarter. He remained in the game after it happened, briefly retreated to the Denver locker room before the start of the second quarter and played the rest of the way with no evident issues.
Nuggets: Murray played with tape protecting the bottom of his left hand, thanks to a nasty floor burn he got in Game 3. … It was Denver’s 25th win on the road this season, tying a franchise record set last season. … Michael Porter Jr. scored 11 for the Nuggets.
Heat: It was retiring 20-year veteran Udonis Haslem’s 43rd birthday and rookie Nikola Jovic’s 20th birthday. Jovic was 58 days old when Haslem signed his first Heat contract. … If it was Miami’s home finale this season, then the Heat went 613-299 in its home arena during his career. … Miami started the playoffs 6-0 at home. The Heat are 0-4 on their home floor since.
Miami led 21-20 after one quarter. The 41 combined points were the fewest in the first quarter of the last 24 finals games; the first quarter of Game 4 of the Toronto-Golden State series in 2019 had 40 points.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was in the crowd, as was Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields and twins Haley and Hanna Cavinder — who helped the Miami Hurricanes make the Elite Eight in this year’s NCAA women’s tournament.