NBA Finals: Denver Nuggets out-rebound, out-muscle and out-hustle Miami Heat in Game 3

One moment in Thursday’s NBA Finals contest between Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat perfectly summed up how the home side lost Game 3 109-94 and yielded the advantage to the visiting team from Denver.

With the Nuggets leading 63-54 with just over seven minutes left on the clock in Q3, Jamal Murray drove inside the paint, tracked step for step by Miami’s Jimmy Butler. As Butler blocked his path to the basket, Murray swivelled, created distance between himself and the defender and took a jump shot, which bounced off the rim and fell in the paint between a troika of Heat defenders: Butler, Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent.

With all three players a fraction of a second slow in reacting, Murray pounced on the ball, stealing it from under three noses before scooping a smooth lay-up through the hoop.

It was a moment that showed just how much the Denver Nuggets had out-hustled the home side in Game 3.

“They just pummelled us in the paint,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra lamented after watching his side getting out-rebounded 65-41 and out-scored 60-34 in the paint by Denver. “We didn’t offer much resistance. They didn’t really have to shoot three-pointers. There wasn’t a need to space the floor.”

In Game 2, Heat had relied on the strategy of allowing Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP, space to take shots while closing off his passing lines. The ploy worked, with Heat levelling the series with a 111-108 victory to deny Nuggets home court advantage.

Denver coach Michael Malone pointed out that in Game 3, Heat players had tried to choke Murray for oxygen by surrounding him with two-man defences when he had the ball.

“That usually happens to our team only when Nikola sits,” said Malone.

But in Game 3, the tactic backfired with both Denver superstars ending with triple doubles: Jokic putting up a statline of 32 points, 10 assists, 21 rebounds (18 of them on the defensive end) while Murray posted 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Aaron Gordon also ended the night with 10 rebounds. Barring Adebayo, no Heat player could even manage five rebounds on the night.

The numbers Jokic put up in Game 3 had never been done before in an NBA Final. Besides that, two players from one team getting a triple double had never been done before in an NBA game. But for the Nuggets, the only thing that mattered was the win.

“I just think it’s a win. I don’t care, it’s just a stat,” said Jokic.

Murray, though, used the scoresheet to make a point. “Nikola grabbed 21 rebounds. And everyone says he can’t jump! People say he doesn’t want to score, and he’s got 32 points today. We’re running out of things to say about him.”

Game 4 will be played in Miami before the NBA Finals moves to Denver for Game 5.

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