The Denver Nuggets’ star power reemerged on Wednesday as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined for historic efforts in a 109-94 win over the Miami Heat. The Nuggets now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 coming Friday in Miami.
For the first time in NBA Finals history, Jokic notched at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a single game. Only five times in NBA Playoff history has a player notched 30-20-10; Jokic did so three times. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the only other players.
That’s not the only history set on Wednesday. Murray also had a triple-double (at least 10 points, rebounds and assists in a game). Jokic and Murray became the first teammate duo in NBA history to notch triple-doubles in the same game.
Murray is also the first player to notch at least 10 assists in the first three games of the NBA Finals.
“I’ve always felt that Nikola and Jamal Murray are one of the most elite and lethal two-man game combos in the NBA, and we’ve seen that growing for seven years now and I think it was on full display once again tonight,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “A lot of guys play with each other. I think those two guys play for each other and off of each other and they read each other so well.”
Following the Nuggets’ Game 2 loss, he chided the team for not playing with as much effort as the Heat. Malone liked his team’s response on Wednesday.
“Our guys understood Game 2 was not who we are,” Malone said. “It’s not who we can be, especially at this stage of the season, and they responded like they always do. That’s one thing I know about our group: When we don’t play well, we own it, and we find a way to be resilient and get back to playing Denver Nugget basketball, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Even for a star player like Jokic, Game 2 was a wake-up call. This year marks the Nuggets’ first NBA Finals appearance.
“When you lose the game, of course it’s a bad atmosphere, whatever, it’s a bad momentum,” he said. “But maybe help us to refocus and just be better in the details. But that doesn’t mean that we can relax now or whatever. We need to have the same effort because they’re going to be even better. So we need just to have the same or better focus and effort in Game 4.”
So far in the NBA Playoffs, whenever the Miami Heat has faced adversity, they have found a way to respond. That was evident in the Eastern Conference Finals when the Heat let a 3-0 series lead slip only to dominate the Boston Celtics in Game 7 to win the series.
For a team entering the NBA Finals as a massive underdog, the Heat know that they have to do the little things correctly in order to win.
“ I just think sometimes, for us, when we lose a lot of those physical battles, the effort plays, the loose balls, the rebounding battles, that’s our identity, and sometimes that can affect the flow of the rest of your game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s not an excuse. I think the thing that we’ve proven over and over and over is we can win and find different ways to win regardless of whether we have confidence, regardless whether the ball is going in. We have a determination to impact the game and find a different solution or different way to win a game regardless of whether the ball is going in.”