The Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 124-119 in a game that came down to how both teams fared in the clutch moments.

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray combined to score 13 of the Nuggets final 19 points in the last five minutes of the game, repeatedly finding ways to score while using two-man game action. Tyler Herro had 26 points, while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler combined for 22 and 17 respectively. It didn’t matter at the end, with Murray hitting a three-pointer and a floater then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sealing the game with two free throws late. KCP also drew a foul on Adebayo for an illegal screen with 12 seconds remaining to guarantee the W.

The Nuggets had several players hit outside shots at an incredible level tonight. The aforementioned KCP scored 20 points while going a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, 4-of-4 from three, and 2-of-2 from the line. Bones Hyland hit 5-of-6 threes, while Vlatko Čančar hit 3-of-3 from behind the arc himself. Add in Nikola Jokić going 2-of-3 from three, and the Nuggets went on to hit an absurd 60.7% of their three-pointers tonight (17-of-28).

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets matchup against the Miami Heat on Friday night:

Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray take over when needed

The Nuggets always have a presence about them. They have confidence in clutch situations because of Jokić. More than that, they have complete and utter belief in the two-man game between Jokić and Murray.

Denver’s star duo hadn’t played that well until the fourth quarter, but once winning time kicked in, both players turned it up a notch. Jokić was a perfect 3-of-3 in the second half, including a wide open layup, a 15-footer, and a three-pointer off pick-and-pop. The latter two baskets were assisted by Murray, who set him up perfectly in those situations. Murray was 2-of-3 in the quarter with two free throws, including a kickout jumper assisted by Jokić. Murray also had a floater that was generated through two-man game with Jokić.

“I thought tonight, he was really impactful, two-man game with Nikola, getting the ball to Aaron [Gordon] in the post,” Michael Malone said of Jamal Murray’s clutch performance. “And I think, when the game gets on the line, and it’s money time, we know that we can go to them, regardless of what happens in the first 45 minutes, we can go to Jamal and Nikola in the two-man game.”

Denver’s stars just know how to play off of each other. They understand which shots they’re trying to find, and they have such confidence in each other to succeed when the pressure’s on. It’s always fun to watch them, even when the shots don’t go in. Those two together generate great possessions in the clutch as often as any team in the league.

“We have tremendous confidence in them two,” shared KCP postgame. “They’ve been working together for a long time, and we know exactly what they can do.”

Nuggets defense waxes and wanes

The Nuggets allowed 119 points tonight, an egregious number to a Miami Heat team with very little offensive talent. There were times when the defense locked in and got some clutch stops, like KCP drawing the illegal screen on Bam Adebayo in the closing seconds. There were also times when Denver’s defense was simply a step behind.

“Watching it from the bench, we weren’t into people. They didn’t feel us. They were just running script offense,” Malone shared on Denver’s defense. “You can’t guard like that, you gotta make people feel you out there.”

On the year, the Nuggets rank 25th in Defensive Rating, per Cleaning the Glass. The defense has certainly fluctuated, but it’s often leaving the Nuggets in a position where they have to score just to stay ahead. Denver’s winning these games, which matters more than anything else, but they’re not necessarily playing well on both ends to make it happen.

Here’s hoping the Nuggets find a consistent gear defensively in the new year.

Miami’s defense bothers Nuggets with turnovers

The Nuggets turned the ball over 20 times tonight. It’s the first time they’ve done so at home this season. Fortunately, the Heat only scored 19 points off of those turnovers, but it could have been way worse. Denver’s starters began the third quarter by throwing the ball around with reckless abandon, and Bones Hyland struggled to hold onto the ball with six turnovers himself.

It’s a pretty simple formula for the Nuggets: more turnovers means fewer opportunities to score and more opportunities for the Heat to rack up fast break baskets. The Nuggets play a unique style that can lead to more turnovers, and the Heat defense definitely exasperated that total. They’re aggressive, but the Nuggets also used that aggressiveness against them to score 124 points themselves.

Overall, it’s something that Denver can clean up. Better to do it in a winning effort.

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