If Denver Nuggets gave an impression it thrives only on the firepower of its stars – Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray – then Friday’s performance would have put all such conjectures to rest.
Nikola Jokic found himself in foul trouble and off court towards the deep end of the game. Murray was having a rather tough night scoring. In the fourth quarter, its preferred time to hunt, Miami Heat was closing in.
But saving the day for Denver and sweeping away any hopes of a Miami comeback was Bruce Brown, who scored 21 points.
Together with the heroics of Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets were able to head back to Denver with two road wins, and a golden opportunity to seal the deal in game five at the mile high city.
BRUCE BROWN SAVES THE DAY
Bench points are considered crucial in a basketball game. Christian Braun showed us that in game three and Bruce Brown did on Friday.
Jokic had to relive the horrors of foul trouble as Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo drew error after error from the former MVP to leave him with five personals early in the fourth. There were a few questionable calls too, agreed. But Michael Malone had no option but to pull him out.
That’s a scary prospect for the Denver faithful. Their best player not on the court. For over five minutes at that.
Brown was having a decent game until then. But he unleashed an entirely new level in those crunch minutes. He put his head down and drove to the rim as hard as he could. No matter the bodies blocking the lanes.
He did everything. Drew And-1s, drove past multiple players, made shots from crowd. Murray was kind enough to set up a trey for him too.
Brown’s late flourish complemented the 27-point stellar shooting show that Gordon put on display. Three out of four three-pointers and 73% shooting from the field.
The 48 points between the duo were the game changers in the fourth game. They made up for Murray’s 15-point night at 23% efficiency and Jokic’s time off the court.
WHERE IS GABE VINCENT?
A pertinent question to ask as the Heat stare down the barrel. The Gabe Vincent that fell just one vote shy of the Eastern Conference MVP award is certainly nowhere to be seen on the floor.
On Friday, Vincent made one of six attempts. Missed all his pull up shots. The two points he did contribute came off a lay up. As a result, his minutes on the floor were reduced to under 20.
The one game in Miami’s kitty this Finals series came largely because of Vincent’s shooting prowess. With him misifiring, Miami is in serious trouble.
Compounding the problem was Max Strus who failed to score a single point in the game. The second time in the four games played so far.
Two starters scoring a combined total of two points. You know what to expect after that.
HEAT SQUANDERING TURNOVERS
Butler and Adebayo messed up the part that they’d been desperately wanting.
Jokic had troubles guarding the rim in the past. That becomes a direct target for teams facing him to exploit. And the Heat have not done it enough this series. Not even close. But on Friday, a few offensive errors came to the Heat’s aid, and alas, Jokic was off the floor for a substantial amount of time.
With Jokic absent for the floor, the Heat won six turnovers. How many points did they score out of those? Two.
Even through the game, the Heat could only make eight points off turnovers, as against their playoffs average of over 18 points.
That’s not the Miami Heat we’ve seen in the playoffs this year, leaving us with the question - Are the Heat running out of tricks?
Only one team has managed to turn a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals - LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Can the Heat spring a surprise?
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