The Denver Nuggets found a way to win Game 4 on Friday night in Miami, defeating the Heat 108-95 to take a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray were relatively quiet as scorers, combining for 38 points on 13-of-36 shooting. They made their impact in other ways though, while Aaron Gordon (27 points) and Bruce Brown (21 points) stepped up as scorers throughout the evening. Timely shooting from Gordon and Brown helped Denver navigate this game reasonably well, despite it not being their most efficient performances from Jokić and Murray.

Jokić picked up his fourth and fifth fouls early in the fourth quarter. Jokić committed two charges drawn by Bam Adebayo that were…well-acted to say the least. Denver’s superstar center was forced to sit for a large chunk of the fourth quarter, and during that time, all five players on the floor made big time plays. Murray hit a three, Brown got some buckets, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope collected two big time stops in the post, Gordon feasted around the rim, and Jeff Green hit his only shot of the night, a corner three-pointer in front of the Miami bench at the end of the shot clock. It was a masterful performance from the Nuggets in the non-Jokić minutes, as the Nuggets were +4 on the game with the Heat throwing everything they had at those units.


Michael Porter Jr. continued to struggle with his outside shots, but he made some impact plays throughout the game as a cutter and defender. Porter didn’t close the game, but he found ways to make a difference even while the lid continues to be stuck firmly over the rim whenever he shoots.

Still, the Nuggets just continue to find ways to win, anchored by their defense. 95 points allowed is actually the second most that the Heat have scored in these Finals. Denver’s defense has been about as consistently good as anyone could ask for in this run, and the levels are peaking in the Finals.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Heat in South Beach for Game 4:

The Aaron Gordon game

After dueling 30-point triple-doubles for Jokić and Murray in Game 3, the Heat decided to sell out and take away Murray’s scoring as best as they could. Hard doubles, hedges, blitzes, and simply more defensive attention was paid to Murray throughout the evening, and Murray struggled as a scorer as a result.

The Nuggets needed someone to step up in Murray’s place as a scorer, and Aaron Gordon was the natural choice. With the Heat as small as they are and constantly rotating, the front of the rim was constantly under pressure, and Gordon was happy to oblige. He had several dunks and layups throughout the evening, taking advantage of every cut he possibly could to put himself in position for Jokić passes. He was a dominant force down low.

What really pushed his contributions over the top were made three-pointers. Gordon had several opportunities late in the clock to take the open three, and he never hesitated. Gordon made three three-pointers, and each of them were massive, back-breaking threes for Miami as they funneled the ball to Gordon and watched him make them pay.

“That’s just how this team is built,” Gordon said postgame of being the guy to step up as a scorer in Game 4. “We have guys that can step up night in and night out. Sometimes, it’s not going to be your night. Sometimes, it is going to be your night. This team does a good job of finding people that are kind of in a rhythm, got it going.”

Gordon clearly had it going with 27 points, seven rebounds, and six assists on 11-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-4 from three. He was a +29 in his 41 minutes, meaning that the Nuggets were -16 in the seven minutes Gordon didn’t play. Gordon used to receive plenty of Kawhi Leonard comparisons in his style of play before arriving to Denver. The stat line he produced in Game 4 was a Kawhi Leonard stat line, shouldering the burden of top scorer in an efficient and effective way. He even hit some isolation shots that would have made Leonard proud.

The Bruce is loose

When the Nuggets signed Bruce Brown, Michael Malone told media that he envisioned Brown being able to handle the ball as a guard, run pick and roll, and compete constantly.

Of course, the vision Malone and the Nuggets shared probably didn’t include Brown scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and running a team off the floor with some incredible plays in the NBA Finals.

“Throughout these playoffs, , the non-Nikola minutes have gone really well,” Malone shared post game. “Bruce Brown in the fourth quarter was amazing…they were giving Jamal so much attention, so let’s get Jamal off the ball and let Bruce make some plays. He was impressive, got to the basket, made shots.”

Brown delivered on a night when things weren’t perfect for the Nuggets. He stepped up and made several plays down the stretch, many of them with Jokić off the floor. His ability to pressure the rim helped Denver in so many ways, and some of the finishes he had were absolutely ridiculous.

“Luckily, it was just my time in the fourth,” Brown shared postgame.

Brown has had plenty of opportunities to step up in the fourth quarter in these playoffs. It hasn’t always been Jokić and Murray, and Brown’s ability to pressure the rim and willingness to take perimeter jumpers has helped Denver tremendously. His swagger is palpable in these situations, and the Nuggets have needed someone who could step up and shoulder the burden when the lights were brightest. Nobody could have said for sure that Brown would be that guy in these moments, and he’s been that guy time and time again.

Murray and Jokić play a different game

It wasn’t the normal outcome for Murray and Jokić tonight, the incredible duo often leading this Nuggets team to the promised land. Instead, with Murray being blitzed consistently by Miami and Jokić missing some bunnies and getting into foul trouble, the Nuggets needed to do things in a completely different way than Game 3. That was when they had double 30-point triple-doubles, shouldering the majority of the impact. In this one, the Heat sold out to stop them, and other Nuggets stepped up in their place.

Murray in particular saw the biggest alterations to the way he was guarded, getting blitzed in pick and rolls and dribble handoffs throughout the evening. The Heat didn’t want to let Murray get going, and they accomplished that, holding Murray to just 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting. There were consequences though, with Murray racking up 12 assists compared to zero turnovers, handling the pressure well and mostly making good decisions with the basketball.

Per the NBA notes, Murray’s 12 assists were the third-most assists without a turnover in an NBA Finals game since turnovers were first recorded for players in the 1977-78 season. Murray joined Magic Johnson as the only players to have 10 or more assists in four consecutive games in a single NBA Finals series. Johnson did it four times (1983, 1984, 1985 and 1991).

“In a game where he was getting blitzed and having bodies thrown at him, he didn’t have one turnover,” Malone shared of Murray’s stellar playmaking night. “That’s just remarkable.”

Of course, Jokić wouldn’t be outdone. He posted 23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks, a line that has only happened from selected Hall-of-Famers in the NBA Finals. It wasn’t Jokić’s night, with him missing some bunnies and getting into foul trouble early in the fourth quarter, but he still found ways to be incredibly impactful. The normal burden that he puts on defenses was on full display, and his pick-and-pop shooting (3-of-7 from three) was one of the difference makers.

Of course, without the crooked scoring and playmaking numbers, Jokić and the Nuggets still found ways to defend, slowing down the Heat around the rim once again with solid rim protection and great hands. His primary matchup, Bam Adebayo, collected eight turnovers in 44 minutes and appeared bothered by some of the plays Jokić was making.

Jokić became the first player in NBA history to have at least 500 points, 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a single postseason. Ho hum.

The Nuggets are officially one win away from being NBA champions. It’s taken contributions from everybody to make it happen, and the Nuggets are playing some of the best team basketball they’ve ever played at exactly the right time.

Finding a way to win two games in Miami is absurd. This wasn’t something the Nuggets had to do. They’ve won a series tied 2-2 already, against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. And yet, Denver took care of business in a way that’s become synonymous with who they are.

Denver has an opportunity to win a championship in front of their home crowd on Monday night. The team can feel it. The fans can feel it. Everybody can sense how close the Nuggets are to the perfect storybook ending. All that stands in their way is one more win and a Miami team that has made a habit of being un-killable.

We will see if the Nuggets can make it happen in Game 5.

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