MIAMI — The Denver Nuggets needed someone other than Nikola Jokic or Jamaal Murray to carry them in Game 4, and they’re on the brink of their first NBA championship now that Aaron Gordon obliged.
Gordon scored a playoff career-high 27 points and went 3-1 in the 2023 NBA Finals as the Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 108-95. Denver can clinch its first title in franchise history at home on Monday. Game 5 is at 8:30pm ET.
Jokic didn’t let up in Game 4 with 23 points and 12 boards, but went to the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 9:24 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Denver 10.
“Guys stepped up,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We were up 13 in the fourth quarter and they started 8-0, which coincided with Nikola picking up his fifth foul. So came out aggressive. They kept us on our heels, and usually in the regular season when Nikola goes out, things are kind of messy.
“But I think not just tonight, but throughout these playoffs, no matter how many games we’ve played now, non-Nicolas minutes have gone well. … Truly a team win. We’re not satisfied. We’re going home. We know we have a lot of work to do, and we’re taking it one quarter at a time. We are going to take
After Jokic sat on the bench for more than five minutes, the Heat got within six points — the big buckets were a Jeff Green 3 and a layup and free throw from Bruce Brown for a 10-pointer with 3:59 left. – point advantage.
Murray extended his streak to four games with at least 10 assists in his first Finals appearance, finishing with 15 points and 12 assists on an otherwise rough night on 5-for-17 shooting. He trails only Magic Johnson for consecutive Finals games with at least 10 assists and didn’t commit a turnover in Game 4.
“We’re ready to win a championship,” Murray said. “We have the tools to do that. It’s been on our minds for a while.”
Brown finished with 21 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
Gordon asserted himself in the middle quarter, scoring 15 points in the second and another nine in the third, helping the Nuggets carry that 13-point lead into the final frame. He added seven rebounds and six assists in his ninth career game, going 5 and 5 with at least 25. Four of those games have come since January 15.
“I thought Aaron Gordon was huge all night,” Malone said. “He brought his hard hat tonight and was a warrior on both ends for us.”
Jimmy Butler’s 25 points led the way for the Heat to become the first team in league history to become the first team in league history to win a championship. Bam Adebayo contributed 20 points and 11 boards, and bench players Kyle Lowry (13 points), Duncan Robinson (12 points), and Caleb Martin (11 points) were strong.
Starters Gabe Vincent and Max Strus combined for two points in 38 minutes. The Heat shot worse at home again, this time shooting 45-percent from the field and 8-of-25 from 3. They committed 15 turnovers and led to 17 Nuggets points.
Jokic, en route to a Finals MVP, became the first player in NBA history with 500 points, 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a single season. He put up Friday’s numbers while battling a sore ankle after landing on a stressed leg in the first quarter.
The game was stopped with 2:07 left in the third quarter, the third time the Nuggets have played this season.
A funny little stat for a franchise on the verge of fulfilling its destiny.
“We’re staying true to our identity and we’re going to give it the best opportunity to do that,” Malone said.
(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)